It was a scratchy Tuesday night for Portugal as they opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in Euro 2024 in Leipzig. Roberto Martinez, not particularly known for being conservative with his football, deployed a back three in a fluid 3-4-1-2 system. This setup saw Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Leao operating as split strikers; by the end of the match, though, six forwards were operating on the pitch for Portugal, which showed why the Catalan might have erred on this occasion.

Portugal’s midfielder #08 Bruno Fernandes (C) controls the ball between Czech Republic’s defender #05 Vladimir Coufal (L) and Czech Republic’s defender #04 Robin Hranac (R)(AFP)

Bruno Fernandes, typically a more advanced playmaker, was positioned deeper alongside Vitinha. This meant that the Manchester United midfielder had to cover more ground to make his attacking moves, often leaving Portugal’s midfield overpowered by the Czech defence. This wasn’t the first time Fernandes played a box-to-box role, but for an attacking midfielder like him, the adjustment seemed somewhat out of place in the national team.

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The position initially limited Fernandes’ influence, but it is a testament to his brilliant skills that he proved his creative prowess by orchestrating Portugal’s best efforts in the first half. Fernandes’ vicious, dipping shot just cleared the bar, and a stretching Leao almost converted his precise cross, showcasing Fernandes’ ability to adapt and thrive even in a deeper role.

However, Fernandes acknowledged that it was far from his best performance, raising his hand when asked about Portugal’s wastefulness in the first half.

“We made many mistakes in the first half, especially me. Taking risks has two sides of the coin. I am aware of this. The midfielders take more risks,” said the midfielder during an interaction with reporters in the mixed zone following the win.

“But also, once I can pass the ball, I have a lot of quality in front of me to score a goal.

“So I’m not worried about making mistakes, because it’s part of the game. I have the team pulling for me because they know that’s one of my characteristics.”

Despite the challenging role, Fernandes remained true to his playing style. Just as he orchestrates the attack at Manchester United, the Portugal star was the driving force behind the team’s offensive efforts. In the final minute of the first half, he executed a brilliant combination with Bernardo Silva to deliver a precise pass to Cristiano Ronaldo at the back post. However, the talismanic forward was thwarted by Jindřich Staněk, the Czech goalkeeper.

Right at the start of the next 45 minutes, Fernandes was at the centre of another counter-attack, racing with the ball the length of the pitch. His final pass, however, was a touch too strong as Vitinha failed to reach the ball in time.

Fernandes shines with his versatility

Fernandes and Bernardo Silva were both swapping flanks at regular intervals and making considerable sprints up top to set up their main man, Ronaldo. The Manchester United star had the most crosses in the match (8), many aimed at the 39-year-old forward. But while Ronaldo squandered a fair few opportunities, Fernandes’ movements remained immaculate throughout the 90 minutes.

A stat from Opta showed that he had 11 attacking sequence involvements; this included taking a shot, creating a chance, and having a role in the build-up. None had more.

When this publication asked Fernandes whether he believed Portugal could be more clinical in front of the goal in the games to come, the Manchester United captain insisted that goalscoring wasn’t the only focus and the team did have a strong overall performance throughout the game.

“We played well. We controlled the game and didn’t give them enough opportunities,” Fernandes said.

“Of course, they had a moment of brilliance. But we know how to be in the game. And we made a return and got the goal first. And then we got the winner.”

It remains beyond doubt that Fernandes’ form will be crucial to Portugal’s chances at Euro 2024. Despite not being in his natural role, the 29-year-old made a significant impact, guiding his side to a hard-fought win at the Red Bull Arena.

Portugal will next face Turkey in their Euro 2024 Group F match in Dortmund. It will be intriguing to see if Roberto Martinez employs similar tactics against another formidable opponent, as Bruno Fernandes could be the key to unlocking Portugal’s attacking potential, especially if he is utilized in a more advanced role on the pitch.

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