Having narrowly edged Armenia on Friday, the Portuguese national team faces much stiffer competition at Manchester United’s home ground Old Trafford as the Seleccao are pitted up against World Cup finalists Argentina in an international friendly. Cristiano Ronaldo once again saved Portuguese blushes against Armenia and the spotlight will be on the Portuguese superstar as he competes with rival Lionel Messi to steal the show at a place he once called his professional home.
Progression A Key
Having come up short against Argentina in a 2011 friendly with a late Messi penalty goal being the deciding factor, the Portuguese national team will look to keep their recent winning stretch under Fernando Santos alive but you can expect plenty of experimentation from both sides. While the 1-0 win against Armenia put the squad once again on the front foot of qualification for Euro 2016 several questions need to be asked heading into the match against Argentina.
While Santos was applauded by many for his imaginative team selection against both France and Denmark in previous fixtures his team selection for the Armenia match left many puzzled. Having started Danny up front in a false nine role, the Portuguese skipper reverted back to out and out striker Helder Postiga up top and the results were less than successful as the Deportivo man was a non-factor for the majority of the match and was substituted quickly in the second half for the more lively Eder. After showing faith in young Sporting Lisbon right-back Cedric for the previous two fixtures, recent returnee Jose Bosingwa was thrust into the role against Armenia and though he didn’t have a bad game, it does cause an issue with the growth of the squad and the needed youth movement in the Seleccao. On that note, midfielder William Carvalho dropping to the bench was another curious move by Santos as he seemingly has his sights set on Tiago playing the role of holding midfielder in his preferred formation.
Examining the Opposition
With the focus is usually centred on star Lionel Messi, much of the Argentinian squad doesn’t get the praise it rightfully deserves. While the Portuguese national team has struggled for years to produce a top class striker, Argentina has no such problem boasting perhaps the best attacking force in the world football today. When healthy, Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero is the definition of a game breaker, a talented finisher that can turn something into nothing and win a game single handily. Recent returnee Carlos Tevez provides in immense work rate to go along with his sublime talent. Couple that to go along with Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Manchester United winger Angel Di Maria and you can see why the Argentinian attack is so feared. Having avenged their World Cup loss to Germany with a 4-2 friendly win and dispatching Croatia 2-1 in their latest fixture, the squad goes into the game at Old Trafford gleaming with confidence. While the Argentian attack is formidable, the team does in fact have several holes. The lack of a top notch creative midfielder makes the movement of the ball up the pitch difficult at times with players like Messi having to come to the half way line to get possession of the ball. Besides Pablo Zabeleta, the defence has been make shift at times with different players rotating in. Those two areas are where the Seleccao will need to win the battle in order to get a result from the game while trying to contain the Argentinian attack.
After a few stellar performances, Rui Patricio has entrenched himself as Portugal’s number one goalkeeper and should start the game, however, considering he was seemingly carrying an injury in the Armenia game it’s a likely possibility that either Beto or Lyon keeper Anthony Lopes will see some time for Portugal. The centre-back pairing of Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe have done quite well in their time together and should start once again with Southampton captain Jose Fonte likely to deputize at some point earning his first cap for Portugal. At the full-back positions, Raphael Guerriero hardly put in a foot wrong in his senior team debut and has earned another start. While controversial, Jose Bosingwa will likely see more time at right-back as he continues to be gelled back into the team. The midfield trio of Joao Moutinho, Danny and Tiago will not likely stay in tact as Danny will either feature up front or drop to the bench perhaps in favour of Andre Gomes, Joao Mario or my personal selection Nani who played well in a midfield role against Armenia for the latter part of the contest. On the wings, Cristiano Ronaldo is a no-brainer while based on merit Ricardo Quaresma has earned a start as he has been a fundamental part to every national team goal since Santos’ arrival. Having showed some glimpses against Armenia, Eder will likely feature up front over the dismal Postiga but should Santos get imaginative Danny may once again be thrust in. The Seleccao will be in for a tough task on Tuesday and will need to be hitting on all cylinders to vanquish their South American foes.
Probable Portugal lineup: Patricio, Guerriero, Carvalho, Pepe, Bosingwa, Tiago, Moutinho, Andre Gomes, Ronaldo, Nani, Eder
My Portugal lineup: Patricio, Guerriero, Carvalho, Pepe, Cedric, William Carvalho, Moutinho, Nani, Ronaldo, Quaresma, Danny
Both squads possess different deficiencies which may in the end cancel each other out. Both Ronaldo and Messi get on the score sheet in an entertaining 2-2 draw that leaves both coaches satisfied in the end.