Fernando Santos announced today a squad of 24 to face France in a friendly on September 4th and Albania in a Euro 2016 qualifier on September 7th. Bernardo Silva and Joao Mario, who both starred for Portugal at this summer’s U-21 Euro, have rightfully earned places in the team, as well as Porto new-boys Andre Andre and Danilo Pereira, who have been named for the second successive squad. Dinamo Kiev’s Miguel Veloso, who has been out of the national team setup for some time, also earned a call as a result of some solid recent performances in Ukraine. Continue reading
On Friday, Fernando Santos will name the Portugal squad to face France on September 4th (international friendly) and Albania on September 7th (Euro 2016 Qualification). With both the U-21’s strong showing at the U-21 Euro and the U-20 team’s impressive run at the U-20 World Cup this summer, the Portuguese National Team are in transition. With young prospects such as Bernardo Silva, João Mário, and Ivan Cavaleiro now becoming integral parts of their club teams, will Fernando Santos begin to ween them into the national team setup? Will they become stalwarts of the Seleção, or will Santos favor older, more experienced players? These questions highlight the conundrum that Portuguese football is facing; one of how to go about this transition. Continue reading
Following three successive wins, the Portuguese Under-19 team has qualified for the Elite Qualification round for next summer’s UEFA U-19 European Championship. Led by rising stars such as Renato Sanches, Gil Dias, and Goncalo Guedes, the team qualified with relative ease, which shows just how strong Portugal’s youth system is at the moment. Should Portugal qualify for next summer’s tournament, it will be the fourth year in a row that the team has managed an appearance in the competition. That statistic is encouraging, and with players such as Marcos Lopes, Bernardo Silva, Andre Gomes, Joao Mario, and Bruma in recent years, there is every reason that this current group of U-19s is destined for success. Continue reading
Fernando Santos named a squad of 24 today for Portugal’s upcoming games against Armenia and Argentina, giving calls to a number of either new or returning players to the team. The most notable of these was Bosingwa, who was famously exiled under Paulo Bento beginning in 2011. Initially an automatic starter under Carlos Queiroz, Bosingwa’s decline under Bento was swift. Now 32, Bosingwa is still a starter at Trabzonspor in the Turkish league, which is enough for Fernando Santos. Continue reading
With the International break on as Portugal was set to play Albania in Group I Qualifying there was a lot of interesting stories to read. So here is a review of what hit the headlines this week in Portuguese Football: Continue reading
Aveiro calls for Bento’s head as Portugal fall… again
Bento is continuing to make history at the helm of A Seleção das Quinas as Portugal lost their first home game in European qualification since 1998. A sole Balaj effort in the 52nd minute capped off an inspired display from the Albanians, turned qualification contenders from ‘whipping boys’ as Portugal stuttered and spluttered their lines. The critics will be licking their chops as an average ‘Ronaldo-less’ side failed to argue their case without the Real Madrid starlet as the Aveiro crowd whistled and jeered, with a fair few waving handkerchiefs towards the dugout, as Bento and co. got their comeuppance.
Portugal: Rui Patricio; Coentrão, Ricardo Costa (Veloso 74), Pepe, João Pereira; William Carvalho (Horta 56), André Gomes, Moutinho; Nani, Vieirinha (Cavaleiro 45) and Éder
Albania: Berisha; Agolli, Mavraj, Cana, Hisaj; Kukeli (Kace 66), Roshi, Abrashi, Xhaka, Lenjani (Lila 75); Balaj (Cikalleshi 86)
Bento’s Portuguese starting eleven was a largely expected one, with a couple of long-awaited changes, which kept the same 4-3-3 system. Costa came in for the injured Alves, with Gomes and Carvalho welcomed into the starting eleven’s midfield three for Veloso and Meireles, with William acting as the midfield anchor and Gomes taking up an advanced role next to Moutinho. Éder set up shop up top as the lone striker, flanked by Nani and Vieirinha for the injured Ronaldo.
Giovanni De Biasi and his charges were looking to emulate previous successes against A Seleção das Quinas having mustered draws in the 2008 and 2012 European qualification, with their most recent clash only decided by a last-minuted effort from Bruno Alves. These results were largely defined by resolute ten-man defending, with the Italian playing a 4-5-1 formation with Kukeli as the holding defensive midfielder and Balaj the lone-striker.
A lot of huff and puff with little to show for it
Portugal’s start to the encounter had appointed captain for the day Nani at the focal point of every attack. The Manchester United loanee, now gracing the Sporting kit, set up Portugal’s first effort on goal from the dead ball as it was deflected into the onrushing Costa off the Albanian shot stopper Berisha, only to go out for a goal kick. Nani’s exploits were followed up by a shot dragged wide after a neat a one-two with Moutinho on the edge of the box and a cross into Eder whose header sailed wide.
Some early attacking pressure in their defensive half aside, Albania continued to sit back and absorb what little Portugal threw at them as the home team lacked cohesion in their build-play, not unusual for a side lacking match sharpness but worrying considering the opposition. Still, the visitors caused little trouble at the other end, with their first real chance of the game coming from a corner resulting in an easy Patricio save.
Portugal’s best opportunities continued to come from the deal ball as Moutinho found Vieirinha, only for the 29-year-old to head his effort straight to the attentive Berisha who made another clutch save.
At the half hour mark Portugal had little to show for their attacking intent, with four half chances, including three headers, inflicting no damage to the scoreboard, no thanks to Albania’s tireless work ethic, with Roshi man-marking Moutinho at every occasion, hassling and harrying the midfield lynchpin.
No goals but fouls aplenty
The game continued to lack goalmouth action in a stop-start affair littered by fouls from both sides as the Aveiro crowd remained dissatisfied as Portugal’s impatience grew in finding that killer pass against a continually resolute Albanian ten-man defence.
At every opportunity the officals were barraged by whistles as the Albanian’s fouled the Lusos at any opportunity in a match earmarked by challenges galore as Roshi, Costa and Moutinho were all at the receiving end.
Portugal continued to venture forward in a fruitless effort to take the lead at the 41st minute as Nani found some space, setting himself for a curled effort outside the box only for his shot to be blocked by Mavraj for the corner.
The ensuing corner was headed well by Costa but blocked and cleared near the line, followed by an Éder appeal for a penalty that was dutifully waved away as Portugal produced their most concerted period in attack.
The best chances for the half for either side came at its climax, with an effort from the ever-present Roshi keeping the largely uninvolved Patricio on his toes with crucial save. Portugal’s came once again from the set piece and again from a header, as Nani whipped in a beautiful ball for Pepe to muster into a looping header that should have tested Berisha but arched over the bar.
Paulo Bento was left with a concerning statistic at half-time. Eight shots and only one on target.
Cavaleiro and Horta deemed the answer as Bento makes his move
Plenty of huff and puff had little to show for in blowing down an unyielding brick house that was the Albania defence. Paulo Bento looked to shake things up, brining on youngster Ivan Cavaleiro for Wolfsburg winger Vieirinha in the hope of breaking the deadlock.
Portuguese consistent but fruitless exploits down the flanks continued but to no avail as Albania continued to muster dangerous opportunities, with a counter led by Balaj ending with Roshi unleashing a cross into the box missed by everyone, only to be touched behind for the corner.
In the end, it was Albania who would take the deserved lead at the 52nd minute with a peach of a goal from Bekim Balaj. His partner in crime Roshi timed a perfect cross to the Slavia Prague striker who was obliged to have an effort, scoring his first international goal in the process after unleashing a lethal shot past Patricio on the turn.
One-nil and Portugal needed a change with Paulo Bento heeding call, bringing on another forward in the form of Horta in the foray who started his debut with a glaring effort from outside the box.
Eder continued to show little for his involvement, with his inability to hold-up the ball and contribute to the attack to any real effect adding to Portuguese frustrations. Portugal was left playing a formation similar to that of a 4-2-4, with Moutinho and Gomes left to fend for themselves in the middle of the pitch.
A Nani effort that was always rising and a Coentrão chance that trickled wide towards the far post followed but Portugal were facing their 3rd consecutive European qualifying campaign without a win, with only one shot on target to show for a largely disappointing display.
Luckless Portugal didn’t deserve it
Portugal’s chance of the tie came from a poor Nani free kick. His effort bounced off the Albanian wall, with Horta recovering the ball and unleashing a lovely curled effort that hit the corner of the goal frame, only to be followed up by a Pepe effort that sailed over the bar. Coentrão continued to persist as he ran riot down the left, setting up Nani whose header went disappointingly wide when it would’ve been easier to score.
In the dying embers of the tie, Coentrão and Gomes’ efforts from the left were both met by Berisha saves as the travelling contingent of Albanian support rejoiced at the final whistle. The Portuguese faithful waved white handkerchiefs in response, dismayed by their side’s performance as Bento’s collar grew ever tighter around his neck.
Call for change
Paulo Bento continued to echo familiar sentiments for an “unjust result” post-match but Portugal should not feel hard done by. Bento’s foregoing of a friendly fixture the week prior will be questioned as Portugal continued to run out of ideas, failing to recover the deficit with uninspiring football lacking cohesion, polish and understanding against a side that many considered to be the group’s whipping boys.
With Denmark, Serbia and Armenia to follow, Bento will find it hard to sleep in the coming nights as the Portuguese media continue to smell blood in even murkier waters. Although still early days, and with an injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Portuguese side riddled with inconsistencies correlating to the start of a new season, a squad full of undoubted quality and potential against a side ranked 70th in the world has no excuses.
The FPF’s stubbornness and commitment to have kept Bento at the helm after a lacklustre display at the World Cup having signed him on until after Euro 2016 will be tested as he continues to man a sinking ship. A brave display from the Albanians, and potentially the performance of their lives, was dutifully rewarded as Portugal was left to lick their wounds at the final whistle. The big question is, will Bento stay on?
Portugal vs Albania
The Portuguese National Team will kick off their UEFA Euro 2016 qualification campaign tomorrow when they host Albania. Portugal is also joined in Group I by Denmark, Armenia, and Serbia. France will also play all of the teams in Group I, but the matches will not count towards the final group standings, as France is automatically qualified as host of Euro 2016. With Serbia, Denmark, and Armenia all wildcards capable of giving Portugal trouble, one feels that the matches against Albania are must-wins for the Portuguese.
Paulo Bento named a decidedly new-look Portuguese team for this match, most likely as a response to team selection criticism after the World Cup. Bento has earned a reputation lately for being set in his ways. Many believe he is too much set in his ways, but the fact that he has stuck with players who are past their prime is one that cannot be overlooked. Players such as Raul Meireles, Helder Postiga, and Miguel Veloso have all seen better days, but are still automatic starters under Bento. Players such as William Carvalho, Jose Fonte, and Adrien Silva have been given few opportunities, despite stellar performances. In fact, with the example of Fonte and Adrien, Bento has not even selected these players, despite their solid performances in the Premier League and the Portuguese Liga, respectively.
When it was announced that Paulo Bento would stay on as coach until at least Euro 2016, many fans feared more of the same favoritism for two more years. This favoritism, many fear, could cost the team qualification for Euro 2016, which could be the first time Portugal has not qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. But, with the team that Bento selected for tomorrow’s match against Albania, many of the hardcore opponents will be appeased. In the team that Bento named, no less than seven players have the opportunity to make their debuts. These players are Pedro Tiba (Braga), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Ricardo Horta (Malaga), Bruma (Galatasaray), Ruben Vezo (Valencia), and Adrien Silva (Sporting). All seven are enjoying positive starts to their respective seasons, and it is encouraging that Bento is giving opportunities to young, capable players. And there are some statistics that show Bento’s change in heart:
Average age of 2014 World Cup squad: 27.9 years old
Average age of squad named for Albania game: 25.6 years old
Average number of appearances for 2014 World Cup squad: 34.5 caps
Average number of appearances for squad named for Albania Game: 23.4 caps
As the numbers show, the team that Bento named for tomorrow’s match is both drastically younger and more inexperienced. This decision to boot experience and age in favor of younger, more inexperienced players could prove to be a positive decision. The Portuguese are coming off of a tournament that they were expected to perform much better than they did. With their star man Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly at his height as a footballer at the age of 29, the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be Ronaldo’s. Portugal had an experienced team, which was led by arguably the finest player in the world at the time of the tournament, and the team was expected to beat out the United States and Ghana easily to earn a second-place spot behind Germany (at least) in Group G. The rest is history, and the decision by Bento now to bring in new faces suggests that he is preparing the team to move on and look ahead to future challenges (such as Euro 2016).
Portugal last met Albania in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. At that time, the team was led by Carlos Queiroz, who if nothing else, instilled a defensive solidarity in the team. In the 10 matches during qualification, the team only conceded five goals in total. When the team met Albania in those qualifying matches, both teams’ tactics cancelled each other’s out. Both were defensive-leaning teams, and though Portugal possessed much greater talent, the outcomes were stale matches. The two times the teams played, the outcomes were a 0-0 draw and a last-minute 2-1 victory for Portugal.
This time around, Portugal plays a much more open, attacking style of play, one that can be used towards a much more positive result against Albania. Though the team will be lacking their start man, Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no shortage of talent and dynamism in the team. As this is a qualification match, Paulo Bento will likely keep his experimenting to a minimum.
Rui Patricio is a no-brainer to start in goal as a result of solid performances both for Sporting at the Seleccao recently. In front of Patricio will likely be a familiar back-line, something that Bento may be reluctant to change. Fabio Coentrao merits inclusion at left-back, while Joao Pereira could very well start on the right. There is a possibility that Joao Pereira could be benched in favor of Andre Almeida. Pereira’s future at Valencia is currently up in the air, and Bento has given hints that his starting spot is not set in stone. Pepe will likely start, seeing as he has been Real Madrid and Portugal’s starter for some time. The other center-back spot will likely come down between Ricardo Costa and Luis Neto. Though Ricardo Costa is 33 and not playing in a major league, Bento will likely choose him to start.
In midfield, Bento will likely have learned his lesson with William Carvalho. Carvalho will most likely start ahead of Miguel Veloso. Ahead of Carvalho will likely be Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho. Meireles, who is one of the players whose lackluster performances lately have been noticed, may be benched in favor of Adrien Silva, whose performances for Sporting have been wonderful. On the wings, Nani will likely resume his starting position, after playing regularly for Sporting. Filling the hole left by Ronaldo will likely be Vieirinha, who is impressing at Wolfsburg. Up top should be Eder, who is the team’s most viable option as striker. Bento has also hinted that Ivan Cavaleiro could be used as striker for the team, but it remains clear who will start.
Here’s the full lineup, as predicted:
If the team can learn from its previous mistakes, Portugal should have no problem with this game. The fact that Bento is giving opportunities to younger players, the morale and drive of the team should be very high. A positive performance in this game could very well put their underwhelming performances at the World Cup behind them. Put simply, a win tomorrow can be the first step towards a new chapter in Portuguese football.
PortugalFutbol prediction: Portugal 4-1 Albania
Paulo Bento announced today a 24 man squad for the Portuguese National Team’s inaugural Euro 2016 qualification match against Albania on September 7th. The squad is markedly different from the one Bento named for this summer’s World Cup, with the likes of Ricardo Horta, Ruben Vezo, Adrien Silva, Pedro Tiba, Bruma, and Andre Gomes all new to the team. Bento has been criticized for his lack of flexibility both in team selections and tactics in recent months, and has received much of the blame for Portugal’s sub-par showing at the World Cup this summer.
While it appears that Bento looks to be changing things around (which is something that many will agree desperately needs to happen), there are still some signs that Bento still has a long way to go. Ricardo Costa, who was on the Portuguese squad this summer in Brazil, is included in this squad, despite being 33 and playing in the middle east.
One of the biggest exclusions of this squad was of Ronaldo. The Real Madrid and Portugal star will miss out against Albania, after it was discovered that he was not in sufficient physical condition to appear for the Seleccao. The team will surely miss the talented Ronaldo, but one would hope that other players can step up in his place, especially against a team like Albania.
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Eduardo (Dinamo Zagreb), Rui Patrício (Sporting)
Defenders: André Almeida (Benfica), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), João Pereira (Valência), Pepe (Real Madrid), Neto (Zenit), Ricardo Costa (Al-Sailiya), Ruben Vezo (Valência), Antunes (Málaga)
Midfielders: Adrien (Sporting), André Gomes (Valência), João Moutinho (Mónaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Pedro Tiba (Braga), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahçe), William Carvalho (Sporting)
Forwards: Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Bruma (Galatasaray), Éder (Braga), Ivan Cavaleiro (Deportivo), Nani (Sporting), Ricardo Horta (Málaga)
UEFA announced the other day the qualifying groups for Euro 2016. Portugal were drawn with Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, and Albania. Portugal will be wary of facing Denmark and Albania again, having had trouble with the two in previous qualifying campaigns.
It is worth noting that qualification for Euro 2016 will be much easier than in previous tournaments. Euro 2016 will be the first European championship where the number of participating teams is 24, having been expanded from 16 in 2012. This translates into the top two teams in each group qualifying directly, while the third-place in each group qualifies for a playoff.
Portugal faced Denmark in qualification for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. The Danes proved to be worthy opponents, topping the group each time, and forcing Portugal to qualify via the play-off. In the four times Portugal and Denmark met in the two qualifying phases, Denmark won 2, Portugal won 1, and the teams drew once. It is evident that Denmark is not a team to take lightly. Though their momentum has slowed as of late (the team failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup), Denmark still packs a punch.
Serbia is another team that has the potential to cause problems for Portugal in qualification. Combining proven stars like Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolorov, Nemanja Matic, and Adem Ljajic with up-and-coming talents such as Lazar Markovic, Milos Jojic, and Aleksandar Mitrovic, Serbia is also not a team to be taken lightly. The Serbia U-19 team was victorious last summer at the 2013 UEFA U-19 European Championships, and a few of the players from that tournament have made the move to the full national team. This mix of established, world-class stars and up-and-coming youngsters give Serbia an air of unpredictability. Though they have fallen short in recent qualification tournaments (the last tournament they qualified for was the 2010 World Cup), Serbia are a much different team now.
Armenia are somewhat of an unknown entity. Armenia is a small country of barely over three million inhabitants, bordered by Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The team has never qualified for a major tournament, and, frankly, has hardly ever come anywhere close to qualifying. That is, until the 2014 World Cup. Armenia was drawn with Italy, Czech Republic, Malta, Bulgaria, and Denmark. The team started off slowly, losing to Bulgaria, Italy, Czech Republic, and Malta, but absolutely stunned Denmark, winning 4-0 in Denmark. The team then managed to defeat Bulgaria and Czech Republic before rounding off their campaign with a 2-2 draw in Italy. Though Armenia didn’t come very close to qualifying, they turned some heads with their impressive performances against Denmark and Italy, two of Europe’s top sides.
Portugal last met Albania in 2010 World Cup qualification, and though the team did not offer much competition, the Seleccao still only managed two draws (including one last-gasp 2-2 draw to keep their qualification hopes alive). Portugal tend to play down to their opponents level, which is why the team has had problems with Albania in the past. If the Seleccao can manage to play well, Albania should be no match.