Five things Portugal learned from the Confederations Cup: Silvas shine

Portugal sent their strongest team to the Confederations Cup with the aim of winning the competition, so coach Fernando Santos's assertion that his team had played "an excellent tournament that the Portuguese people should be very proud of" is a questionable assessment and one not shared by most fans and pundits back home.

Santos was talking after the European champions had beaten Mexico 2-1 in Moscow on Sunday to secure third place in the tournament. In many ways Portugal's performance was reminiscent of their triumph a Euro 2016 last year. Bar the New Zealand match, fans were treated to tight games, few goals, extra time and penalty shootouts, which could be interpreted as a lack of progress.

But despite some causes for concern, there were significant positives to take from Russia ahead of the World Cup next summer. Here are five things we learned about Portugal from the Confederations Cup.

1. Bernardo Silva is undroppable

Many French football analysts argued that the diminutive midfielder was the Player of the Year in Ligue 1 last season, and anyone who watched his wonderful displays against Manchester City in the Champions League cannot have missed his extraordinary talent. Pep Guardiola certainly didn't, as City shelled out €50m to secure his services.

Yet Fernando Santos had somehow failed to find a place for him in Portugal's starting XI prior to this tournament, and in the first match against Mexico, Silva didn't get off the bench. Santos finally selected him for Portugal's second match against hosts Russia, in the same position where he excelled for Monaco -- on the right of midfield -- and the 22-year-old duly delivered.

Silva's vision and technique enables him to keep the attacking flow going, a crucial asset for a team whose manager prioritises defensive solidity. He is equally adept at cutting inside and spraying a long ball to the opposite flank, producing a sumptuous through ball, or playing a perfectly timed pass to the overlapping full-back or winger.

If Silva becoming an automatic starter is the only significant outcome of this tournament, it would have been worthwhile.

2. Striker problem solved

For years Portugal couldn't buy a striker. Generation after generation of extravagantly talented wingers had no reliable striker in the box for their crosses. Now Portugal have arguably the world's most lethal No. 9, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's evolution, and the captain is partnered by a young striker of tremendous potential in Andre Silva.

The new AC Milan centre-forward showed his potential to hurt the opposition, his clever movement and aggressive attacking creating a host of chances for himself and others, although he will be disappointed he only found the net once.

Silva has hit the net eight times in 13 senior games for Portugal, and with the chance to learn alongside the very best, the goals will surely continue to flow at international level.

3. Cedric Soares is the real deal

Raphael Guerreiro is widely tipped to become one of the world's best left-backs, but it was his less heralded partner on the other flank who shone in this tournament. Cedric Soares was solid defensively and excellent when pushing forward, his superb delivery from a variety of crossing positions providing a potent attacking weapon to Portugal's armoury.

Portuguese sports paper A Bola were moved to ask after his brilliant performance against Chile in the semi-final: "Has he outgrown Southampton?"

4. Pepe replacement needed

He may not have played much for Real Madrid this season, and was unceremoniously dumped by the Champions League winners, but Pepe showed he remains a formidable centre-back and by a distance better than all of Portugal's alternatives.

New Rangers signing Bruno Alves did a competent job but he'll be 36 by the time the World Cup rolls around, and neither Jose Fonte (since his move to West Ham) nor Luis Neto inspire great confidence. Portugal are more dependent than ever on Pepe, and with no outstanding young central defenders emerging, it is a problem position that could prove the team's undoing if not addressed soon.

5. Time running out for the old guard

Fernando Santos said on Sunday: "Age means nothing to me. I watched Ricardo Carvalho play in China yesterday and he was fantastic." Santos is nothing if not consistent, his words backed up by the fact his Euro 2016 squad contained Carvalho who was the oldest ever player to represent Portugal in a major tournament.

However, it cuts both ways, and the squad in France also contained Portugal's youngest ever player at a World Cup or European Championship: Renato Sanches.

Last year Joao Moutinho (102 caps), Nani (110 caps), Bruno Alves (93 caps) and Ricardo Quaresma (69 caps) all made significant contributions when called upon to help push Portugal to its first major trophy, and they all played in the Confederations Cup.

But with the abundance of talented Portugal U21 players eager to make the step up -- Sanches and Bruma spring to mind -- this tournament may have been the final swansong for some of the older guard.