Opinion: Portugal vs Albania – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly


Paulo Bento - Portugal vs AlbaniaPortugal came into the first Group I game against Albania at the Estádio Municipal Mário Duarte in Aveiro, off of what most consider a poor World Cup.

The team had a lot to prove, and Bento did make changes bringing in a lot of fresh faces into the squad and starting line-up. Gone from the starting roster were habitual starters Postiga, Meireles, and Veloso replaced by Eder, Andre Gomes, and William. More importantly Cristiano Ronaldo was left off the squad by personal request so he could play in Real games as he is still not fully fit, he was replaced by Vieirinha (more on this later).

A whole lot of movement that had Portuguese fans excited before the game but what hasn’t changed is that Bento employs the same methods, tactics, and formations from the bench. The result was even worse than most could imagine, the poor fans that bleed red and green endured a pathetic display that resulted in Albania winning away to Portugal 1-0. The world press caught on and Portugal was a major sporting headline for media outlets like the NY Times that barely cover football/soccer.

What transpired on the pitch was more of the same traumatic scene as we as a collective have seen in recent memory from the Portuguese National team, a squad that has gone 2-2-1 in their last 5 games. To cap it off Bento goes down in history as one of the few Managers, that you can count on one hand, that Albania has won away to in a competitive match, with the likes of Norway, Luxembourg, & Kazakhstan the only other nations to fail to Albania at home in the last two decades. Albania in Euro Qualification has only 8 wins, 20 losses, and 15 draws in the last two decades. The only other away win in Euro qualifying in that time was against the giants of Luxembourg.

This result has many fans in a huff and deservedly so, especially in the smug face of Bento who doesn’t take ownership for any result. The fact that he has never won a serious trophy in his Managerial career must’ve eluded the FPF who hired him, and continue to employ him.
Bento started with a shocking 4-3-3 formation. Shocking in that it hasn’t been successful against the minnows of Europe in the last 4 decades, but learning from history isn’t a strong suit of the Supreme Leader.

Where most major sports teams are hiring advanced stats experts to benefit their teams, it can be said that even the most basic stats are neglected by the FPF and any of their revolving Managerial Dictators.

I love William and thought he should’ve started from day one in the WC, and it would’ve made a huge difference in the Group of Death, but what is the point of playing a Trinco (DM) in a game against a minnow?

Why start a 4-3-3 with a Trinco to win a non-existent midfield battle against a team that is going to park the bus?

This insanity the red and green blooded folk have had to endure the last 4 decades is not only idiotic, it is irresponsible, and preposterous. Portugal’s major nemesis is an organized defensive squad and that includes the minnows of Europe who park the bus. Yet the same tactics are used consistently year after year, and it has been to the detriment of some world class players.

Take our much maligned Strikers over the last few decades the majority of them lined up 2 at the front for their club teams where they had success, yet when they played on the National team against the best defenders in the world they were expected to play alone.

In all fairness CR & Nani who have manned the wings for the majority of the last decade aren’t the best of crossers or passers yet they are expected to find a lone man in the middle of two Center Backs, a Goalkeeper, and a Trinco (DM), a needle in a haystack in other words. I don’t care who it is, but if I walk into a fight with 3 of my buddies against one guy even if it is Anderson Silva the MMA Legend, he is going to take a one sided beating.

I can’t blame the Portuguese wingers either because it is an almost impossible task that requires perfection. Ronaldo is amazing, and Nani also has shown glimpses of that, but it is a big ask. What upset me most is the same formation and tactics employed, Portugal has become extremely predictable and easily defended. If not for the sheer quality of the players we wouldn’t even dominate possession, and would’ve failed years ago.
Over the years the likes of Pauleta, Gomes, and Postiga have been treated poorly, left alone to face the criticism their Managers should’ve taken. Gomes & Postiga scored some big goals for Portugal but were always chided for their efforts.

Eder is the current whipping boy, and although he holds the ball up well, when he is finally fed in the box it is either a ridiculous pass/cross or he has 4 defenders on him. The ESPN Colour Commentator yesterday suggested he lacked quality in his attempts, yet the truth was the quality attempts were lacking, left alone.

Oscar Cardozo for Benfica is prime example a monster goal scorer that was treated poorly by the revolving door of Managers at Benfica in his tenure. He was benched or played as a lone Striker, but in a two man attack system his lack of speed or defensive qualities made him lethal. Positioning is the key and the Goaldozer missed more than others scored. If you gave him a good ball to the feet or a header half the time it was bulging the back of the net, the space afforded to his lack of speed was exploited, repeatedly. Yet our Strikers for the National Team are afforded no space, no time, and multiple markers and they are expected to be world class.

Very few nations have a Striker that can play alone, yet the expectation from Portugal is that our frontmen should be able to do it, and we chastise them if they don’t succeed.

Portugal should start every game against a minnow in a 4-4-2 or in one of Jorge Jesus’ 2-2-6 formations.

The whole point of opponents parking the bus is getting 11 men behind the ball forcing Portugal to shoot from long range, or make a world class play that breaks the bus. With Ronaldo being the only good long range shot for the NT it is not a statistically viable option, and it has led to much heartbreak. Save the 4-3-3’s for games against quality opponents when you have to win a midfield battle, and using a Trinco like William would’ve been a good idea against Germany, not the defensively inept Meireles, Veloso, and Joao Pereira.

Overall Portugal dominated possession as expected in a 4-3-3 versus a minnow and against all odds broke Albania down repeatedly. The only thing missing was the FINAL BALL it was a night of atrocious shooting from Nani, Pepe, and many others in the face of goal that resulted in the loss.

Read Mitchell Rua’s excellent Match Report to get the detailed game review.


 

Time for the Good, Bad, and Ugly:

Good

  • Albania played their game to perfection hard fisted with the bus parked and kept threatening attempts to a minimum
  • NT lining the squad with young faces was a step in the right direction
  • Vieirinha was a beast on the left in for Ronaldo, and the little man created BIG danger
  • Andre Gomes got 500+ minutes under JJ at Benfica in two seasons??? Yet his calm and cool control has won him many fans abroad, he did not disappoint
  • Coentrao coming off his injury created havoc and was his usual problem self in the offensive zone, his mastery almost won the game
  • William didn’t have much to do but every possession counted, his vision and control of the field is deserving of his buyout clause being met in January, hopefully by Manchester United
  • Horta, Coentrao and Gomes had bombs that should’ve bulged the twine

Bad

  • Although Nani created dangerous situations and got into deadly areas his final ball was lacking, with CR out he was called upon, in the end it was a fail
  • Pepe had 3 good deliveries for a header none were close to the targetPepe not marking the only man in the box was sheer laziness that resulted in a loss
  • Ref handed out 6 yellow cards to Albania a couple of them should’ve been Benfica coloured, Albania was allowed to hack and did so all night, fortunately no long lasting injuries came of it
  • Adrien Silva not getting into the game, what does the impressive kid have to do?
  • Taking off the best player in the first half Vieirinha

The Ugly

  • Inviting only ONE STRIKER to a squad playing against a MINNOW
  • Playing a 4-3-3 with a Trinco against Albania is asinine
  • Bringing on Veloso as your last sub when you are down a goal
  • Being the only REAL team to lose to Albania at home EVER
  • Listening to Bento not QUIT or be FIRED directly after arguably the worst result in the history of the Portuguese National Team

In closing, I would like to address another problem area for the National Team, they have rightfully picked up a reputation from Ref’s with their unsportsmanlike behaviour (dating back to Bento’s suspension in the WC as a player) as cheats, divers, and meddling fakes. It surfaced again in the game against Albania where a couple of reds should’ve been lashed out but the Ref was right to be wary. It didn’t cost us the game, but it did affect it.

It is high time that this was addressed. No simulation, no surrounding the Ref begging/pushing, no more flashing of imaginary red cards, and no more sulking after not getting a call. It is starting to affect games, and will cost us at the highest level in the biggest games.
It doesn’t matter that teams like Germany and Italy live off of simulation they don’t have that reputation in the Ref’s eye.
Portuguese people are a hardy breed, especially abroad. Full of folks that work hard at back breaking jobs so nothing upsets them more than a bunch of Prima Dona’s on the pitch that don’t put in the effort, sulk, and dive repeatedly.

STOP IT!!

We need the Portuguese National Team to build back their reputation with sportsmanlike behaviour so we can get back the benefit of the doubt. So we can win big trophies like the World Cup winning German Diving Team, and the Italian Actors Guild.

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