Thursday 15 September 2016, 09:54

Neto: Portugal will aim to win Confederations Cup

Portugal's national team enjoyed its finest moment this summer in beating host nation France in the UEFA EURO 2016 final at the Stade de France. Millions of Portuguese people all over the world joined in the celebrations and Luis Neto was no exception. The 28-year-old Zenit St. Petersburg defender was filmed jumping for joy in front of the television screen during his club's pre-season training camp in Switzerland.

Neto did not make it into Fernando Santos' final squad but was involved in the qualifiers, so he has a personal connection to the victory, which also qualified Portugal for next summer's FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 in Russia.

"I was delighted when Portugal won the title," the central defender explained to "The emotions would have been even stronger had I been in the squad, but I'm still proud of the team. The whole country was over the moon and, of course, so was I. Yes, I didn't receive the call-up this time, but that has only strengthened my desire to fight for my spot in the future."

Neto's reaction to Eder's winning goal in the final went viral thanks to some candid-camera work from his Zenit team-mates, but Luis himself doesn't hold any grudges.

"I didn't know they were filming me, so those emotions were completely genuine," Neto revealed. "It's the final of the European Championship, we've just scored an unbelievable goal – what kind of reaction would you expect from me? I was supporting my country.

"Portugal made it to the final and won because they were a united team. All the outfield players got game-time at the EURO because of injuries and suspensions elsewhere in the squad. The whole of Portugal was involved in this success, a united front, all for one and one for all. We've had a great team for years, but luck hadn't been on our side before. Now, here's our reward."

The Seleção das Quinas came in for criticism during the tournament for their unattractive and defensive style of play, although Neto takes issue with this point of view.

"The strongest teams defend from the front, making it easier for the guys at the back to do their jobs. What do you mean by attractive football? The best style of play is the one that brings victory. In ten years' time, who will remember whether Portugal won by playing attractive football at the EURO in France. I believe Portugal adopted the style of play that was necessary to win."

The World Cup in Russia will have added meaning for us because we're trying to get there as the current champions of Europe, which carries a lot of responsibility. We need to keep up the image.

Dreaming of glory at home in St. Petersburg Like the rest of Europe, Portugal have begun their qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, but additionally will compete at the Confederations Cup next summer as reigning European champions.

"I've got two reasons to want to play there," admitted the Zenit star. "Firstly because my aim is to play as many games for my country as possible (ed's note – so far Neto has made 11 appearances for the national team). Secondly, the tournament is going ahead in Russia, which has become a second home for me.

"I've never been to Sochi and I've played in Moscow and Kazan, but I can't say I know these cities well. However, St. Petersburg is a different issue. It would be amazing to play here for Portugal, although usually I live in the moment and I don't try to think too far ahead. The standard of the competition will be high: all the teams will be strong so it should be an interesting one.

"I can assure you Portugal will take the Confederations Cup seriously. We'll try to win it and play good football, partly because it's part of the preparations towards Russia 2018. Going back to 2000, Portugal have not missed a single World Cup or EURO, and we're not planning on breaking this run. The World Cup in Russia will have added meaning for us because we're trying to get there as the current champions of Europe, which carries a lot of responsibility. We need to keep up the image."

Fernando Santos' men have already found it tough playing under the mantle of champions, losing their first World Cup qualifier away against Switzerland 2-0. However, Neto cannot take any share of the blame for that defeat as he saw out the game on the substitutes' bench.

Although the Portugal coach chose not to play Neto on this occasion, he is unquestionably making excellent progress at Zenit. Some time ago he found life difficult at the club, whereas recently he was voted player of the month.

"I had problems adapting," he explained. "But then I got used to the city, country and club. I was fairly young when I came, but three and a half years is a long stretch. Everything is different now: I know the Russian league, and the atmosphere at Zenit has been amazing for the past couple of years, so it was an easy decision to stay longer."

By now Neto can safely be called a true citizen of St. Petersburg. He has improved his Russian, although he is shy about speaking it, and does a great job as a guide around the city.

"I haven't quite been everywhere, but I've been to the Hermitage twice," Neto concluded. "I think that's enough for now, but this city will never stop amazing and delighting you. I went to Peterhof for the first time this summer and was stunned. Everything is so beautiful there – the palace, park and fountains. It must be just incredible when the weather is good. I recommend that everyone who visits St. Petersburg spends a day in Peterhof."