- Portugal No10 makes Confederations Cup start
- 13th cap for Portugal on an important night
- Santos set Silva free in midfield
*By Marco Monteiro with Portugal
Unused in Portugal’s most recent FIFA World Cup™ qualifier, and in their crucial opening match at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, Bernardo Silva has been bursting to play football for Portugal. Watching him in each team training session since landing in Russia, you could sense a crackling energy that was struggling to contain itself.
On 21 June, on a cold and windy Moscow night against an opponent that was undefeated in the Russian capital against Portugal, the No10 was given the start he’d been eager for.
"I was set free," Bernardo Silva told FIFA.com after the game. “My coach and my team trusted in me to do what I was able to do at my club (Monaco) last season, so I’m really happy to have helped and I feel good about tonight.”
Bernardo seized his opportunity against Russia. Positioned on the right of midfield, he quickly set about making challenges and setting up players in central midfield before darting back to the right flank to chase down opponents or launch combination counter-attacks with right-back Cedric Soares. Almost every single Portuguese attack in the first half involved the space Bernardo was operating in.
Portugal fans were delighted. The player with so much promise, so eagerly snapped up by Pep Guardiola for Manchester City, got to express himself for the national team.
Asked if it felt special to start in such a big game in only his 13th cap for Portugal, Bernardo said: "Personally, I’m just really happy to be here, representing my country. But yes, it felt even better because it was a big game for Portugal. We really needed the three points and winning tonight put us in a very good position. I feel joy for the whole team and for having helped them win."
When asked why it is that he seems so loose and relaxed, both in training and in big matches, in such a competitive environment, Bernardo kept his words simple. It’s the matter-of-fact, down-to-earth mentality that has caused many journalists to fall in football-love with the boy from Benfica’s youth system.
“Luckily, we get to do what we like, professional footballers I mean,” said Bernardo. "Our work is essentially to have fun on a football pitch. We know that we have to be professional and that we carry a great responsibility, but being able to do both things is fantastic.”
On more than one occasion against Russia, the short, slender No10 managed to do just that - have some fun, threading the ball through opponents' legs, retaining possession and tripping defenders up before darting past. It’s such a common sight that it earned him the nickname Bubblegum at Monaco.
"My team-mates started calling me that because of the way I play. I think they were just having fun with me, but it stuck,” the No10 said modestly. In fact, the name 'Bubblegum' is a massive compliment. Bubblegum. Because no matter what, the balls sticks to his feet.