Portugal demolished Switzerland 6-1 in the last 16 of the World Cup and look like the kind of team that can go until the end in Qatar. Coach Fernando Santos has at his disposal a very valuable batch of players, being able to line up two attacking lines of the same level very easily. Cristiano Ronaldo was left on the bench at the start of the match and this made all the headlines, but he was not the only star who did not feature in the starting eleven. Andre Silva and especially Rafael Leao were also reserved. The AC Milan player came on in the 87th minute, enough to leave his mark on this match as well. He scored the 6-1 goal in overtime.
And it wasn’t the first time when Leao came off the bench and scored at the World Cup. This also happened in the opening game against Ghana when he scored in 14 minutes of play. The 23-year-old played in all four games as a reserve, but he had an instant impact. He spent the most time in the field with South Korea – 26 minutes. In total, he collected 66 minutes and 2 goals. And we are talking about a player with a market share of 85 million euros, according to transfermarkt. This is another indication of how strong Portugal is at the current edition of the World Cup. He has different attributes than the other strikers in the squad, which makes the team even more dangerous.
Rafael Leao is already in the attention of the giants
Pundits say Leao gives Portugal even better balance when he gets on the pitch and suggest he should play more. Regardless of how the World Cup will end and how long he will play in Qatar from now on, Rafa has already drawn the attention of several top clubs.
Leao’s current contract expires in 2024, and Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid and PSG are among the teams interested in his services. But the AC Milan coach, Stefani Piolo, is hopeful that the star forward will sign a new deal soon and extend his stay at the club.
“Two things are sure, that he is well with us, because I see and talk to him, and that Rafa and the club are talking,” said Pioli
The player joined Milan in 2019 and has appeared in 135 matches for the club thus far in all competitions. This season, he has netted six times in 14 league appearances.
It has often been said that Rafael Leao is the Portuguese most likely to become the ‘new’ Cristiano Ronaldo. But in terms of playing style, he is closer to the French star Kylian Mbappe. In fact, the PSG footballer is a source of inspiration for Rafa, who is also nicknamed “Portuguese Mbappe”
He became world famous in Italy. But in Portugal he impressed from a young age
He comes from Almada, Portugal, from a family with six children. Rafael had a more difficult childhood, but from a very young age he became obsessed with football. He never liked losing, and when he did, he cried. Although he was noticed by Benfica before he was 10 years old, the player ended up at Sporting Lisbon, having better possibilities to travel to the training sessions of the “green and whites”. He grew up in the club’s youth academy and his talent was impossible to ignore. At the age of 14, youth coach Tiago Fernandes told to France Football at the time: “Leao does things with the ball that no other kid can do.” At the same time, Tiago Fernandes labeled him as “the best player in the history of the Sports Academy”. The coach also told L’Equipe that at the same age, Rafael was certified as a better leader than Cristiano Ronaldo.
The new Portuguese star made his senior debut for Sporting aged 17 and his impact was immediate then as well, as he scored against Braga. However, he played only one season in Sporting’s first team. On June 2018, Leao unilaterally terminated his contract with the Leoes. His departure was linked to an attack on the club’s manager and players by disgruntled fans. He became a free agent and signed for Lille. After another season in which he immediately stood out, Rafa arrived in August at AC Milan, in exchange for 30 million euros.
And with Milan, Leao became famous in six seconds, because he scored the fastest goal in the history of Serie A. So, he is the man with the fingerprint. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if he comes on as a substitute in an eventual World Cup final and scores the winning goal.