It is rare for a Portugal match to begin when all eyes are not on talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
By the end of the night that is all anyone inside the Estadio Dragao was talking about. A fabulous hat-trick helped fire the Nations League hosts into Sunday’s final against either Holland or England.
But heading into the semi-final with Switzerland, 19-year-old wonderkid Joao Felix was the talking point that topped the pre-match agenda. How would he get on alongside Ronaldo? Is he heading to the Premier League for £100million? Is he the heir to the throne for the national team?
Joao Felix endured a tough Portugal debut in a Nations League semi-final against Switzerland
The Benfica starlet, valued at £100million, had the world watching as he started in attack
Starting Wednesday night’s game saw the Benfica ace become the youngest debutant for his country since midfielder Renato Sanches. The less said about how he has fared since, the better.
While many in Portugal are waxing lyrical about the diminutive attacker, there remained some who voiced concerns it was all too much, too soon. Sanches, unsurprisingly, was raised as an example.
But for boss Fernando Sanches, Felix would not be anywhere near the squad, never mind the starting side, if he was not ready.
‘If he wasn’t ready he wouldn’t be called up,’ Santos told reporters. ‘Regardless of age we assess capabilities. So, if he was selected and is part of this team and others were left out that is because he is ready to play.
‘He’s been called up for a reason. We need to call up players who can contribute. He has great qualities.’
The price-tag gives its own impression to those who are not regularly familiar with his work. Starting alongside Ronaldo in a front two is not typically how he has thrived with his club.
Described as a mix between a No 10 and No 9, Felix’s low centre of gravity and clever footwork have left defenders spinning in Primeira Liga. At international level, defenders do not allow those who can orchestrate, like Felix, Bernardo Silva or Bruno Fernandes, an inch.
And so it proved. Felix found it difficult to get a foothold early on, his back to goal and regularly harried out of possession by defenders adept to the international game.
He found it difficult to get into the game with Ricardo Rodriguez (R) smart in marking him
The teenager was left scratching his head as to how he could have an impact on proceedings
A quarter of an hour went by and fans, both at home and in the Dragao, were waiting for the teenager to produce a moment of quality, a moment that has had Europe’s top clubs chasing his signature in the last few months.
Touches were proving difficult to come by. His team-mates tried. They tried to pick him out by up against Newcastle United centre back Fabian Schar, this was turning into an education for Felix.
A flick that never came off, a pass that was cut out, a run that took him away from the action. The fluidity he has shown…