Portugal travelled to Serbia on Saturday night in the hope of kickstarting their Euro 2020 campaign; after they drew their opening two matches. Fresh off the back of winning the UEFA Nations League, Portugal were eager to beat a talented Serbia side, who possess many household names in their squad.
Serbia began the match a little timidly, perhaps showing too much respect to a potent Portugal team. The visitors dominated the opening 30 minutes of the game, although it took this amount of time to create the game's first meaningful opportunity. Cristiano Ronaldo had a shot from distance which took a deflection into the path of Bernardo Silva, who produced a smart reverse pass to Nelson Semedo down the line. The Barcelona wing-back found Ronaldo in the box, but the Juventus forward's shot was bravely blocked by several Serbian defenders flinging their bodies in the way of any shot.
After receiving a warning to wake up, Serbia responded. In the 33rd minute of the match, Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a deep free-kick with pinpoint accuracy, finding the head of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who could not guide his effort on target.
Following their first opportunity, Serbia had a few opportunities to take the lead, but so often their final ball was left lacking the quality needed at this level to open up a top-class international defence.
The half appeared to be fizzling out until a hopeful cross by Bruno Fernandes was sent into the box. Both William Carvalho and Ronaldo challenged Marko Dmitrovic, forcing an error from the keeper. The ball bounced around the six-yard box until a grateful Carvalho was able to prod the ball home to give Portugal the lead heading into the break.
Portugal started the break like a team with the hunger to put the match to bed. Ronaldo in the opening minutes of the half squared up Milenkovic, beating him and then firing the ball slightly wide of the post.
The warning signs were there for Serbia, as 10 minutes later Fernandes, Ronaldo and Bernardo all linked with short, crisp passing, creating a situation for Goncalo Guedes to do what he does best. The Valencia flyer feinted to go right, only to cut back on his so-called weaker left foot, launching the ball into the top corner. This goal was a huge relief for Guedes, as many fans were suggesting he should not have a position in the starting 11, largely due to the emergence of Atletico wonderboy, Joao Felix.
Serbia improved following Portugal's second goal, progressing up the pitch with more purpose and letting Dusan Tadic have more of an influence on the match. Their pressure told, through a set-piece once more. Tadic delivered the ball into an area Rui Patricio could not come and claim the ball, allowing Milenkovic to lose the attention of Danilo, allowing the young centre-back to head the ball home with a purpose.
Portugal just had too much quality for Serbia, however. Emphasised when one of the Premier League's best playmakers picked up the ball, setting free arguably the greatest finisher of all time. Bernardo and Ronaldo perfectly combined, allowing Ronaldo to produce a cute chip over the onrushing goalkeeper, seemingly putting the match out of sight for Serbia.
This was until Portugal suffered a lapse in concentration, allowing Dusan Tadic time and space to set free Mitrovic, who fired the ball past Rui Patricio with real anger. Mitrovic had felt throughout the game that he was being treated unfairly by the referee, which was portrayed in the manner of his finish.
However, quality yet again prevailed. Portugal replied less than a minute later as Raphael Guerreiro cut the ball back to Bernardo Silva, who placed the ball expertly inside the near post. Bernardo has enjoyed a superb 2019 and quite rightly has received a lot of plaudits. His contributions towards a domestic treble with Manchester City and a UEFA Nations League title with his country can not be understated for a player who is improving each week.
The sky is the limit for Portugal. They have everything to be considered a real contender for international competitions over the next decade. Ronaldo may be in his twilight years, but he will leave behind a team with players such as Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix to guide the attack who are all the correct side of 26. They also have some of the best prospects in football, such as Rafael Leao, Gedson Fernandes, Romario Baro, Fabio Silva and Florentino Luis.
Serbia had €130m worth of players who featured for less than 10 minutes on Saturday. Luka Jovic entered the game on the 87th minute and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was an unused substitute. It is a strange decision for players of this much quality to not have more of a key role in such a huge game for their country. Both Jovic and Milinkovic-Savic could help solve the lack of penetration Serbia offered on Saturday night.
Until the day he retires, Cristiano Ronaldo will always be a key player for any team. Real Madrid's greatest ever goalscorer is exactly that, a great goalscorer. Bernardo Silva's through ball to him was delightful, but the pass still required the most delightful of finishes. Every team he faces are terrified by him. Even if a defence can keep him quiet, the overcompensation to achieve this can result in other players being left with too much space, as shown with Guedes' beautiful goal.
Bernardo Silva is the future of Portugal when Ronaldo eventually does retire. It was clear throughout the first half in particular that he is perhaps more important for Portugal than their greatest player is. The ball constantly goes through the City man to provide Ronaldo with chances to score. If he continues improving under Pep Guardiola in the next few years, Bernardo is the perfect man to guide this young Portuguese side to success in the next few years.