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FIFA U-20 World Cup 2017

Goncalves, Portugal’s new No7

Diogo Goncalves of Portugal poses for a portrait at the Lotte City Hotel
© Getty Images
  • Portugal's No7 prepares for tough U-20 World Cup quarter-final
  • Diogo Goncalves not weighed down by iconic shirt
  • Benfica B winger anticipates challenging Uruguay clash

Some countries’ shirt numbers enjoy iconic status right across the globe. Take the Brazil and Argentina No10 jerseys, for instance. These are numbers that not just any player can wear, a select category to which can now be added Portugal’s No7 shirt.

Over the last two decades it has acquired a symbolic value thanks to two legendary wide men in Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. The question is, will Portugal’s new breed be able to fill what has become a very special shirt?

“It is a number that has a lot of history in the Portuguese national team, but I don’t think that wearing it brings any more responsibility,” said Portugal forward Diogo Goncalves, giving his reply to just hours before he will pull the famous garment on against Uruguay in the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017.

“I know what it means for the football world because Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world, wears it. But I don’t think about that. It doesn’t affect me one way or the other. The number is just a mental thing. It’s the player that counts, not the number.”

With his performances at Korea Republic 2017 so far, the 20-year-old Benfica B winger has shown that the jersey is not weighing heavy on him at all. One of his team’s most incisive players, Goncalves is a very worthy heir to Portugal’s proud tradition of producing talented wide men, possessing speed, superb technique and the ability to get past people.

“I’ve got the confidence to take people on,” he said. Though right-footed, he plays down the left: “I’ve always enjoyed cutting inside people and shooting on goal or setting my team-mates up.”

Along with midfielder Xadas, Goncalves is his side’s leading scorer with two goals. The duo will need to draw on all their finishing skills against the Uruguayans’ watertight defence, which, along with Venezuela’s, is the only one yet to concede in the tournament.

“We have to be ourselves and stick together if we’re going to have the edge,” said the winger. “We have to take care of the ball, pick the right passes and be watchful at the back because they have a lot of quality. It’s going to be a tough game for us, and for them too. It’ll be a battle and it’s going to come down to the details. I think experience will be the key.”

The last-16 tie against Korea Republic also promised to be a major test for Portugal, especially after a group phase in which they struggled to convert the chances they created, but still managed to get the job done. “Essentially it was just a question of seeing how we set ourselves up and putting the pieces together. We were effective against Korea and that was the key to the game.”

While acknowledging that luck plays a part in every game, Goncalves believes he and his team-mates need to be more focused and express a little more attitude if they are to make the most of the chances that come their way. Attitude is something he seems to have plenty of, having shown considerable strength of character in moving as a 12-year-old from Almodovar, a town of a little over 3,000 inhabitants in southern Portugal, to the capital Lisbon.

“It was tough because I had to leave my family and friends behind and go a long, long way away,” he recalled. “I was so determined that I managed to overcome that, though. I always wanted to be a footballer. That’s something that was fixed in my mind and it’s made all the difference.”

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