Portuguese coach Fernando Santos said his hardest task will be keeping his “kids” grounded after they advanced to the semi-finals with a win over Poland on Thursday.
More than a third of Sanches’ 23-man squad are under the age of 25, with 18-year old Renato Sanches producing a match-winning performance in his first start. He became the youngest player to score in a knockout stage game at the Euros.
“I have to manage everything because for these kids … it’s a dream,” said Santos, whose team will play either Belgium or Wales in next Wednesday’s semi-final.
“They are playing for their country, they have reached the semis and now anything can happen. It is a dream for me, but I imagine it is an even bigger dream for my players.”
Santos put faith in his youngsters in the quarter-final, with João Mário (23) William Carvalho (24) and Cédric (24) all joining Sanches in the starting side and the coach felt conceding an early goal may have been down to a lack of experience.
“Some of them (my players) have reached this stage for the first time and some of their heads are up in the clouds because they are dreaming of what’s happening.”
Shortly after they went behind, Santos hauled over Sanches — the youngest player to start for Portugal in a major tournament — for a chat.
Although he would not divulge what was said, it seemed to make the difference.
Sanches went on to equalise just after the half hour mark, followed captain Cristiano Ronaldo’s lead to convert the second penalty in the shootout, and won his second successive man-of-the-match award.
But Santos was eager to take the spotlight off his young midfielder.
“He still has a lot to offer and is still growing. The Renato you see today, I think this is not the future Renato,” he said.
“He has to take all his qualities and put it all on the pitch and it is my job to help organise his type of play.” (