The Portugal team that should play at the 2026 World Cup

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After their 6-1 thrashing of Switzerland in the round of 16, which saw Fernando Santos drop Cristiano Ronaldo for the benefit of the team - a decision that was immediately vindicated - Portugal seemed like a genuine contender for the 2022 World Cup.

Enter Morocco, who defended valiantly during their 1-0 win in the quarter-finals and put an end to Santos' eight-year reign as the other Selecao's manager.

Ronaldo and Pepe, stalwarts for Portugal over the course of the last 15 years - almost 20 for Ronaldo - will face decisions over their international futures as the nation embarks on a new era.

It's time to usher in a new golden generation, one to further the unlikely triumph that was Euro 2016. Here's 90min's predicted Portugal starting XI at the 2026 World Cup.

GK: Diogo Costa - Despite what could have been a disastrous moment against Ghana in the group stage had Inaki Williams not slipped and a costly decision to come for a cross he had no hope of getting against Morocco, Costa is the clear and obvious choice as Portugal's starting goalkeeper for the foreseeable future. The shot-stopper has been in imperious club form for Porto both domestically and in the Champions League this season and, at only 23 years of age, has time to cement his status as one of Europe's best.

RB: Diogo Dalot - Perhaps a controversial selection given that Joao Cancelo will only be 32 years of age but Dalot managed to displace the Man City man at right-back in Qatar and Portugal looked better for it, particularly during the 6-1 demolition of Switzerland. Now undisputed first choice in the position for Manchester United under Erik ten Hag, there is every chance Dalot achieves the same for Portugal.

CB: Antonio Silva - The Benfica wonderkid only appeared during Portugal's 2-1 defeat to South Korea in the final group game but don't judge him on that. One of the breakout stars in the Champions League this season, Silva shone during both of Benfica's 1-1 draws with PSG. At 19 years of age, the centre-back has already shown maturity and composure way beyond his years and looks destined for the very top. Portugal have a genuinely world-class centre-back pairing on their hands by the time the next World Cup comes around.

Antonio Silva
A name to remember: Antonio Silva / Octavio Passos/GettyImages

CB: Ruben Dias - Dias has dropped off slightly following that brilliant, transformative debut season at Manchester City but he should still be an integral part of the Portugal backline come 2026, at which point he will be far and away its most seasoned starter unless Cancelo does still retain the right-back spot. Dias' experience and leadership will therefore be vital to an otherwise relatively young back four and goalkeeper but he is more than up to that task given the fact that he has already captained City a number of times in just two and a half seasons at the club. Goncalo Inacio is one to watch out for to challenge his place in the team.

LB: Nuno Mendes - The PSG left-back is practically nailed on to take this spot in the 2026 tournament. His only real competition as it stands is Raphael Guerreiro, who will be 31 by the time of the next World Cup. At 20 years old, Mendes is already a force down the left flank for the Ligue 1 champions and should have the shirt locked up for the Euros in two years' time, let alone the World Cup two years after.

CDM: Ruben Neves - At this point, a move from Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he has spent five and a half seasons, seems inevitable. Neves is a Champions League-level defensive midfielder and will need to move on from Molineux to really secure himself as a starter for Portugal. With Fernando Santos favourites Danilo Pereira (31) and William Carvalho (30) both ageing out of the picture, only Joao Palhinha remains a feasible alternative looking ahead to the next World Cup.

CM: Vitinha - A name that might be unfamiliar to some, Vitinha only played once during the World Cup for Portugal, appearing in their 2-1 defeat to South Korea. The PSG midfielder was arguably their best player (alongside Dalot) in that game, despite the defeat, and has all the qualities to break into the starting XI permanently. He's 22 years old, exceptional on the ball and off it and should prove a staple of the Portuguese midfield for the next decade. Vitinha simply possesses more quality than alternatives such as Otavio and Matheus Nunes, although both are valuable squad options moving forward.

Vitinha should break into the Portugal starting lineup by 2026 / Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

CM: Bruno Fernandes - This will likely be something closer to a 10 than a true centre-midfielder but Bruno Fernandes is one of the first names on the teamsheet and will likely continue to be so until the tournament in 2026. Fernandes will be 32 then and, barring any catastrophic drop-off in form or serious injury, will still be one of Portugal's key players, the fulcrum around which their entire attack operates.

RW: Bernardo Silva - Another veteran, Bernardo Silva will also be 32 by the time the World Cup heads to the USA, Mexico and Canada. A player who has never relied on blistering pace, the Manchester City playmaker will be every bit as deadly as he is now at finding pockets of space, picking up the ball in tight areas and sliding passes through for his teammates.

LW: Rafael Leao - Rafael Leao should have started every game for Portugal in this tournament given the threat he poses every time he steps on the field. Serie A defenders just cannot cope with the AC Milan forward's pace, directness and clinical finishing from the left side of the attack and it proved the same during the World Cup, even in limited minutes as a substitute. With the departure of Santos, who inexplicably played Joao Mario out of position rather than give Leao a start against South Korea in Portugal's final group game, a new manager will no doubt see the light and have him on every team sheet possible from this point on. In 2026 he will be hitting his peak years - a terrifying thought for everyone other than Portugal.

ST: Goncalo Ramos - This could quite easily be someone like Diogo Jota or Joao Felix, but given the make-up of the rest of the team, someone like Goncalo Ramos - a true centre-forward - is required. The Benfica striker exploded onto the scene against Switzerland in the round of 16, smashing in a scarcely believable hat-trick on his first World Cup start, the first in a knockout stage since 1990. Ramos has the physical qualities and hold-up play to lead the line on his own and drag defenders away for Portugal's other attacking threats, he's a perfect foil to whoever else they play in attacking positions behind him.