The Portuguese National Team is scheduled to meet Gabon a little less that two weeks from now, and after a string of sub-par performances, they will be looking for a resounding win. International friendlies are often used to try out new players to the national team setup, but experimentation must be used in moderation. Paulo Bento surely knows this better than anyone at the moment. If he experiments too much, he risks the chance that the team may under-perform If he doesn’t experiment enough, he will be accused of failing to change a team that isn’t getting results. In other words, Bento must find the right balance for the team. Let’s take a look at who may make the cut.
The goalkeeper situation is surely one that Bento won’t lose sleep over. With Beto (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting), and Eduardo (Istanbul BB) all regulars for their respective clubs, he can easily justify their inclusion. In fact, all three are enjoying wonderful seasons. Rui Patricio’s heroics have ensured that Sporting isn’t having an even worse season, while Beto has sparkled for Braga, both in the Champions League, and also the Liga Zon Sagres, where the team sits just behind Benfica and Porto, in third. Even Eduardo, who hasn’t had an easy time lately, is playing well for Istanbul BB, currently at 12th place in the Turkish league.
The main other contender is Mario Felgueiras, who has been in scintillating form for Romanian outfit CFR Cluj this season, namely in the Champions League. Felgueiras joined the Romanian team from Braga after an extremely successful loan to Brasov last season, and at only 25, Felgueiras still has much of his career ahead of him, as opposed to Eduardo and Beto, who are both 30.
Bento, however, will likely call only two goalkeepers for this friendly, as it is not sensible to have one goalkeeper sit the bench for no reason. Rui Patricio is a shoo-in, with the other spot up for grabs between Beto, Eduardo, and Mario Felgueiras.
Prediction: Rui Patricio, Beto
On the contrary, picking defenders will be much more of a labored task for Bento. Pepe (Real Madrid) and Bruno Alves (Zenit) have been the foundation for the Seleccao defense ever since Ricardo Carvalho stormed out, and have generally impressed. Because Bento is not really one for experimentation, those two look certain picks. Elsewhere in the center of defense may be Sereno (Valladolid), Neto (Siena), Nuno Andre Coelho (Braga), Rolando (Porto), or Jose Fonte (Southampton). Sereno and Neto are starters for their respective clubs, and have accordingly been called to the Seleccao for some previous games, but have not made their debuts. Due to an injury to Douglao, Nuno Andre Coelho is getting a chance to shine at Braga, and much the same as Sereno and Neto, has yet to earn his first cap, despite having been called before. Rolando and Jose Fonte are not enjoying good seasons, however, but for different reasons. Rolando is not a starter for Porto anymore after the emergence of the Otamendi-Maicon partnership. For Jose Fonte, however, holding down a starting spot is the least of his worries. His defense at Southampton is the worst in the Premier League this season, having already let in 26 goals, only 9 games in. Nevertheless, he is playing at a more competitive stage than both Rolando and Nuno Andre Coelho, so a call may not be out of the question.
On the wings of defense, it seems Portugal has almost an embarrassment of riches. The obvious choices are Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid) on the left and Joao Pereira (Valencia) on the right. Though neither of their respective seasons have been strong, they are still definite picks, though Fabio Coentrao is injured, and thus ineligible for selection. The last spot must be picked from Miguel Lopes (Porto), Eliseu (Malaga), Nelson (Real Betis), and possibly even Cedric (Sporting). Eliseu is currently in the form of his career for Malaga, both in the Champions League and La Liga, while Nelson is also having a good time of it in La Liga for Real Betis. Miguel Lopes is seeing intermittent playing time for Porto this season, while Cedric has established himself as a starting right-back for Sporting.
Prediction: Pepe, Bruno Alves, Neto, Nuno Andre Coelho, Miguel Lopes, Joao Pereira, Eliseu
Bento will likely be pulling out his hair when he begins to choose the midfield. Joao Moutinho (Porto) and Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev) both are obvious choices. They have enjoyed successful starts to the season in their respective leagues, but success has also come in the Champions League. Whereas Moutinho and Veloso are obvious choices, Raul Meireles (Fenderbahce), Custodio (Braga), Ruben Micael (Braga), and Hugo Viana (Braga) aren’t as much. While Ruben Micael, Custodio, and Hugo Viana are both enjoying wonderful seasons for Braga, and Raul Meireles is enjoying a good start to life in Turkey at Fenerbahce, none are guaranteed call-ups.
Three other midfielders who may earn the call are Manuel Fernandes (Besiktas), Carlos Martins (Benfica), and Ruben Amorim (Braga). Manuel Fernandes has established himself as one of the finest midfielders in the Turkish league at the moment, while Ruben Amorim is becoming an integral part of the successful Braga team this season. Carlos Martins, however, is not having a good season at Benfica. He has hardly seen any playing time, and a call-up may only happen on the basis that he has been with the Seleccao for some time now. Also, Danny (Zenit) has recovered from his injury, and though he is out of match practice, a call-up is certainly not out of the question. Paulo Machado (Olympiakos) has enjoyed a good start to life in Greece, and is currently impressing in the Champions League.
Prediction: Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Ruben Micael, Hugo Viana, Custodio, Manuel Fernandes
The striker position is one that arguably needs the most tinkering out of all other positions. Though Helder Postiga’s (Zaragoza) scoring rate for the Seleccao has been impressive, he has been accused (rightfully so) of missing crucial opportunities. Hugo Almeida (Besiktas) is considered even more of a culprit, so much that he wasn’t even called on for the Seleccao’s previous selection. Both strikers, however, have been in good form for their respective clubs so far this season, so a call-up would be merited, but possibly not a starting spot. Eder (Braga), Nelson Oliveira (Deportivo), and Nuno Gomes (Blackburn Rovers) have all been in varying degrees of form for their respective clubs, and a call-up is possible for any of them also. Eder’s inclusion in the squad is almost a definite. The striker has risen to prominence this season after his performances for Braga in the Liga Zon Sagres and the Champions League. He is currently the Liga Zon Sagres top scorer with six goals (in five games), and a starting spot is probable. Nelson Oliveira is certainly a star for the future, and his performances for Deportivo at the beginning of the season were promising, but he has since failed to live up to the hype. That having been said, a call-up is certainly not out of the question. While Nelson Oliveira is just beginning his career, Nuno Gomes is at the end of his. Gomes made a surprise move to England this summer to join up with second-tier side Blackburn Rovers. He has since shown that he still has the killer instinct in front of goal after scoring four so far this season. Due to his age, and the other striking options, a call-up is unlikely, but still possible.
One of Portugal’s strongest positions is on the wing. Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Nani (Manchester United), Varela (Porto), and Pizzi (Deportivo) are shoo-ins to make the squad. Ronaldo has enjoyed a wonderful season to date, and being our captain and a former world player of the year, his inclusion is a no-brainer. Nani, on the other hand, is not having a wonderful season. The winger has been in and out of the team at Manchester United, and a recent row with coach Sir Alex Ferguson has all but ensured his departure this January. That having been said, his skill is undeniable, and a spot in the team is practically guaranteed. Varela has been in great form this season for Porto, having won the starting wing spot back after the departure of Hulk to Zenit, and a call-up is likely. Another player in great form is Pizzi, who is playing at Deportivo, currently on loan from Atletico Madrid. The winger has established himself as one of the most vital parts of the team at Deportivo, with his double against Barcelona proving just that. Though he hasn’t made his debut for the Seleccao yet, it surely isn’t that far away.
Other wingers that may make the grade are Bruno Gama (Deportivo), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), and Salvador Agra (Real Betis). All three have been in and out of their respective teams, but all possess undeniable talent.
Prediction: Nelson Oliveira, Eder, Helder Postiga, Pizzi, Ronaldo, Nani, Varela
Full Predicted Squad
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio, Beto
Defenders: Pepe, Bruno Alves, Neto, Nuno Andre Coelho, Miguel Lopes, Joao Pereira, Eliseu
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Ruben Micael, Hugo Viana, Custodio, Manuel Fernandes
Forwards: Nelson Oliveira, Eder, Helder Postiga, Pizzi, Ronaldo, Nani, Varela
*Ricardo (Academica), Ruben Ferreira (Maritimo), and Nuno Andre Coelho (Braga) have been pre-selected, but are not necessarily guaranteed a spot in the final squad.