ANA MAGALHAES / AIPS** in OTROKOVICE: The career of Portugal midfielder Ruben Neves is still young but already he sees the Rio 2016 Olympics is one of the next steps on his ladder to superstardom.

One year ago the Porto player was at the UEFA U17 Euro, a tournament whose matches last ‘only’ 80 minutes.

Two months later, when Porto manager Julen Lopetegui called him up during pre-season, it appeared only a temporary measure because transfers, injuries and international duties had left the squad short of defensive midfielders.

Not at all.

Ruben, 17 years old, held his own and started the first official match of Porto’s season against Marítimo. In front of his own supporters, the teenager enhanced his dream by scoring the first goal in Porto’s 2-0 victory.

The quality of his long pass, his serenity and maturity under pressure made a singular first impression.

Age records piled up: Neves was the youngest Porto player to score on his debut in the starting team, the youngest Portuguese footballer to play in the Champions League and, now, the youngest individual at the UEFA U21 Euro in Czech Republic.

Interest in Ruben is immense but the age factor no longer passes through his mind.

The day after taking a substitute’s role in Portugal’s 1-0 win over England he said: “Of course this is a dream for every player. Maybe it’s unusual to achieve it so early but I just had the opportunity and had to take it.

“Honestly, my age is something that I don’t really care about. Now I’m in this position, I’m a player like any other and I have to work hard, because many other players want the same as me.”

The secret of all this success is not special, apart from the natural talent. To a 50/50 mixture of “hard work and dedication” he also added the need for “a bit of luck.”

If Portugal beat Italy on Sunday, in the second round of Group B matches, then the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be just around the corner.

Ruben Neves said: “We have to pull out our Portuguese spirit and dedication if we want a victory against Italy.

“Portugal have been away from the Olympics for a very long time. We don’t want to think about the European title or rush things. First, we are focusing only on the target that we defined long ago: Rio de Janeiro.”

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course in the Czech Republic. More information:

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