Dias: Connection vital to Portugal’s World Cup hopes

 Dias: Connection vital to Portugal’s World Cup hopes
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Ruben Dias tells FIFA about the additional motivation underpinning Portugal’s World Cup bid, explains why individual talent alone isn’t enough for glory in Qatar and anticipates a tournament featuring players operating at ‘peak condition’.
  • Ruben Dias talks exclusively to FIFA+

  • Portugal defender underlines value of team unity

  • Portugal tackles Ghana, Uruguay and Korea Republic in Group H

As a boy, Ruben Dias would talk to his father about the defender’s dream of playing at the FIFA World Cup™. Given his age, it looked like 2022, the year Dias turned 25, would provide the first opportunity to realise that ambition. As it happened, so precocious was the talent Dias displayed in the centre of Benfica’s defence that Portugal coach Fernando Santos included the player in his squad for Russia 2018. Though the centre-half did not feature in any of his team’s four matches, he described the tournament as a “very special moment”. Speaking to FIFA+, he said: “I’d been called up for the previous get-together [prior to World Cup] but I picked up an injury and couldn’t play. Fortunately, Fernando Santos didn’t change his mind about me.” The then European champions, Portugal went out in the last 16 in Russia, beaten by Uruguay in a gripping contest. They have grown in strength over the past four years, bolstered in every department by the presence of talented performers who play their club football among the European elite. The challenge the Portuguese face in the lead-up to Qatar 2022 is to combine those individual elements and create a team greater than the sum of its hugely gifted parts. “That’s what really makes the difference,” said Dias. “You can have the best players in the competition, but if you don’t know how to make the most of the strengths of each player, then you won’t be able to operate properly as a team.” Read on for the interview in full.

FIFA+: Four years after your first World Cup, what’s different about the Ruben Dias who is heading to Qatar in November?

Ruben Dias: First and foremost, you need a strong team if you want to succeed at a tournament as big as the World Cup. You can have all the individual strengths in the world but what really matters is how strong you are as a team. It’s a competition where you need to feel the warmth of your country behind you, and that’s something I learned when I was in the squad in 2018. It’s a special moment and it’s bigger than anything you might experience on an individual level. Obviously, I’m older now, but having a country united behind you gives you the extra strength you need to go far in this competition. This is one of the most talented generations Portugal have had. In a recent interview with the Portuguese sports newspaper Record, you spoke about the need for the team’s individual parts to find the best way to work together. Is that what Portugal needs to take the next step? No doubt about it. If I’m totally honest, I think that’s the secret to any winning team. There’s no doubt that individual skills and abilities make all the difference, but at the end of the day the most important thing is our ability to connect with each other and work together. That’s what really makes the difference. You can have the best players in the competition, but if you don’t know how to make the most of the strengths of each player, then you won’t be able to operate properly as a team. People will see you as just another ordinary team.

We’ve also heard national team coach Fernando Santos say, in reference to the forthcoming World Cup, that the best is yet to come. Do you feel Portugal have a genuine chance of scoring another first by winning the Trophy, just as you did at UEFA EURO 2016 and in the UEFA Nations League in 2019? Yes, no question. We definitely are a generation with a lot of talent, but other teams have talent, too. We’re not the only ones. The squad we’ve got, though, is full of players who are in really great form. They’re playing well for the national team and their clubs, and we have to make the most of that. I’ll say it again, though: it’s a question of being able to put all the quality we have as a team into practice. This could well be the last World Cup for big names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Joao Moutinho. Is this opportunity to give them a big send-off going to make the team even more motivated? I think it will be a motivation, I honestly think so. The World Cup obviously gives you that extra motivation, but if there’s one good reason why you might be even more pumped up, then it’s that. They’re three players who’ve made their mark on a whole generation in Portugal, and they’ve made their mark on world football, too. It’s great that we’ve got them. That special feeling will be an additional factor and it makes a lot of sense. It has to serve as extra motivation, absolutely.

This is the first World Cup to take place in the middle of the European season. The tournament is just around the corner now. How do you feel physically and mentally? It’s going to be a new experience for us. There’s no way you can tell exactly what’s going to happen. But when you play in a World Cup or European Championship at the end of the season, you’re not in the best physical condition. They’re competitions that take a lot out of you, physically and mentally. Very often, the team that’s best prepared physically ends up having an advantage. What’s interesting is that this tournament comes at a time when virtually every player will be reaching their maximum potential. We’ve had pre-season and a few games and we’re reaching peak physical condition. I don’t know what the temperatures are going to be exactly, but coming from a place like England, for example, and arriving in the heat of Qatar is not easy and takes time to get used to. But, when all’s said and done, I think it’s going to be a pretty good show.

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Dahiana Camilo

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