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Renato Sanches will be a superstar - and he needs to start for Portugal NOW

09:00 GMT+3 25/06/2016
Renato Sanches
The young midfielder has impressed for his country as a substitute, but needs to be on the pitch for longer as Fernando Santos' side seek to make a mark in the knockout stages


Time for a change. Portugal have yet to win a game at Euro 2016 and ahead of their last-16 meeting with in-form Croatia on Saturday, coach Fernando Santos is still searching for a solution. And it could come in the shape of Renato Sanches.

The 18-year-old midfielder has made just two substitute appearances so far at Euro 2016, but was a positive presence in his 19 minutes against Iceland in the first match (which ended 1-1) and gave the Portuguese much more dynamism in attack when he came on at half-time in the thrilling 3-3 draw versus Hungary on Wednesday.

"We only have finals now, they will be hard fought and I think we will come out on top at the end," said Santos after the match against Hungary. And he added: "We attack a lot more, but we’re weak defensively, so we need to find the 10 million euro answer."

That balance looks likely to be key to his side's chances against Croatia and Sanches should be given a chance instead of Joao Moutinho, with the Monaco man indifferent in the first half against Hungary.

Wanted by Manchester United, Sanches signed for Bayern Munich at the end of the season from Benfica for a fee of €35 million that could rise to as high as €80m. However, the extra funds are dependent on how long he stays and what he achieves over the next few seasons at the Allianz Arena. And ultimately, the deal is more likely to cost the Bavarians a maximum of €50-60m.

However, that is still a lot of money for a teenager and shows just how high Bayern (not usually a club that spends so lavishly) rate the 18-year-old prodigy.

Now the youngest Portuguese player to turn out for the national team at an international tournament, the former Benfica midfielder is ready to play a bigger part in the second round of the competition and back in his homeland, many media and fans have already called for his inclusion in the starting XI.

Sanches had had some nervy touches too in this tournament, but he is a player who will always look to take risks and try something different. Excellent at carrying the ball forward with pace, strong, full of stamina and boundless energy, the 18-year-old plays with an attacking verve that can cause all sorts of problems for rival defenders. His athleticism means he can also track back to defend when needed, although that is a part of his game that can be improved.

And up against a Croatia midfield featuring Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, discipline will be important on Saturday - which is why coach Santos spoke of balance after they drew 3-3 with Hungary. It is no good leaving spaces in the middle against a side with as much quality as Croatia.

So the entire team will have to be compact if Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo back on form and always a threat, are to have a chance of beating a side now considered by some as the best in the tournament.

With either William Carvalho or Danilo in the role of defensive midfielder, Santos could choose Andre Gomes and Joao Maria alongside Sanches with Moutinho dropping to the bench.

That would be an exciting midfield four with plenty of technical ability and also some defensive balance. But whoever he picks in the other positions, it is time for the coach to be brave and start Sanches. Portugal's hopes of success on Saturday and beyond may just depend on it.

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