Fernando Santos will look to build on a sound start to his tenure in the Portuguese dugout ahead of a clash against Group I dark horses Armenia in the Algarve. Having come away with the three points in Copenhagen after a last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo effort, A Seleção da Quinas will be confident of building on a professional display in their last hit-out in front of a packed Faro crowd. Continue reading
Mexico 0-1 Portugal
A last minute goal from Bruno Alves was the only thing that separated Mexico and Portugal, as the two teams faced off in Foxborough, Massachusetts for a pre-World Cup friendly match. Indeed, the two teams were very evenly matched and while each team had chances to break the deadlock, it was a clever set piece and a spectacular header that pushed Portugal ahead of the Mexicans. This was Mexico’s last friendly before departing for Brazil, while Portugal will face Ireland next Tuesday before heading to South America.
The Greece game last week was a good challenge because the team’s defense is of similar strength to that of Germany, who Portugal will face in the group stage. While the Greeks were deft at defense, their attacking prowess was not nearly as pronounced. Consequently, the Portuguese team got a good test in attacking, but not nearly as much so in defending. Mexico was different. Known as being competent at both attack and defense, the Mexicans posed a much more complete challenge for the Portuguese. As a result, the game was a very close one, and with a little bit of luck, the Mexicans could have easily gotten a result against what was a very flat Portuguese side.
The Portuguese were without Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, and Pepe due to injury, which meant that the team that was named by Paulo Bento was surely not the one we will see against Germany on the 16th. While Bento did experiment, he only did so with his team selection-not the formation. In the Seleccao’s previous game against Greece, Bento started the team in a 4-4-2 formation-one that Portugal is not accustomed to. This time out, Portugal started in their familiar 4-3-3, which is much more suited to Portugal’s counter-attacking style of play. Eduardo was started in goal in place of Rui Patricio. This was likely not a signal that Portugal’s no.1 will change, but likely simply to give Eduardo some game time to try to determine if he is suited for the no.2 role. The backline was a familiar one, with regulars Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao on the wings. Bruno Alves and Neto started in the middle of defense, with the latter temporarily taking the place of the injured Pepe. In midfield were Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Andre Almeida. Almeida likely took the spot of Raul Meireles, who is out injured. Almeida’s inclusion in the starting lineup comes as a surprise, as his primary position in the national team of late has been at left-back. It seems that Paulo Bento had some more experimenting to get out of his system, and used this friendly match to determine the extent of Andre Almeida’s versatility. On the wings were Nani and Vieirinha, the latter of which replacing Ronaldo. Up top was Eder, which may be a signal that Bento is ready to replace Helder Postiga in the striker position with the Braga forward.
The beginning of the match was a fairly even affair, with both teams failing to create any clear-cut chances. The first chance of note came in the 21st minute, when Eder’s diagonal run met Fabio Coentrao’s pass. The big man managed to hold off the Mexican defender who was marking him, but only saw his left-footed shot palmed away by the Mexican goalkeeper. From that point forward, it was primarily Mexico who controlled proceedings, with winger Andres Guardado reeking havoc in particular. Despite a spell of dominance, the Mexicans failed to capitalize, leaving both teams square at the interval. The second half was more of the same. Portugal showed flashes of competence and Mexico showed more will to win. Some solid saves from Eduardo and profligacy in front of goal for Mexico meant that the two teams were still tied 0-0 going into the final minute of stoppage time. Marco Fabian was adjudged to have fouled Helder Postiga, and the Portuguese were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Joao Moutinho stepped up, and swung in a perfectly weighted ball, which met the head perfectly of the on-rushing (and unmarked) Bruno Alves. His header thundered into the net, and was immediately drowned out by the Portuguese fans, who went mental. Sure. The Portuguese probably didn’t deserve to win…but there’s nothing better than a last-minute goal.
There are many questions surrounding the Seleccao right now. Many teams schedule friendlies to help the team gel and to answer questions about the team before a major tournament. The purpose is to answer questions. Not to raise more questions. While Portugal did not play spectacularly by any estimation, their performance was markedly half-hearted. At times, they were blatantly outplayed by a Mexican team who was surprisingly well-organized. Currently, Portugal is ranked 4th in the FIFA World Rankings, while Mexico is farther down the list at 20th. Though the FIFA rankings have their inaccuracies, they are still a relatively good gauge as to the skill of teams. Portugal should have recorded a much more comfortable result over Mexico. There are other factors that come in to play also. Players are not keen on getting injured before the World Cup, and with recent news of injuries to stars such as Germany’s Marco Reus and Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo, players are especially on alert. So, caution could have been a part of Portugal’s play last night, but as the game wore on, caution looked to play less of a role as players lunged into tackles. Portugal simply looked outplayed, which is disconcerting.
How are teams to gel if they are missing key players. A starting eleven needs to be established so that those 11 players can get experience playing with each other; experience that helps them learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses. With Ronaldo, Meireles, and Pepe all out of the side for Portugal’s first two friendly games (Greece and last night against Mexico), this Portuguese team is at a huge disadvantage. Paulo Bento is a great coach, which he showed at Euro 2012, but he needs to have a healthy team to work with. Ronaldo and Raul Meireles are only just getting back to full fitness, and will (optimistically) only participate in one friendly match before the World Cup starts and Portugal has to face the second best team in the world, Germany. Bento needs to pull out all the stops against Ireland on Tuesday if the team has any hope of preparing for Germany.
Eduardo, Joao Pereira(Ruben Amorim), Neto, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Rafa), Andre Almeida, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Nani, Vieirinha(Varela), Eder(Helder Postiga)
Portugal 0-0 Greece
It’s been 18 years since Portugal last defeated Greece, and it seems they may just have to keep waiting. The Greeks have formed quite a reputation for having one of the toughest defenses in Europe, and it showed today. All Portugal could manage was a scoreless stalemate in the team’s send-off before leaving for Brazil. I would be remiss to mention that a bore draw from Portugal is to be expected. Typically in pre-tournament friendlies, the issue of utmost importance is that of team cohesion. The result doesn’t matter as much as the teamwork that is fostered and developed in the trivial games. This teamwork will prove very useful when the results begin to matter. Though there were no goals, there were some points of interest.
Prior to the match, the fitness of Real Madrid duo Pepe and Ronaldo was in doubt, and Bento confirmed that the two would sit the match out. This, coupled with a new formation from Bento, created a very interesting lineup. Portugal have grown accustomed to playing a 4-3-3 formation, which is a very attack-minded and balanced formation. This formation also fits the team’s strengths well, and it has shown under Bento. The fluidity in attacking is greater than anything the team managed under Bento’s predecessor Carlos Quieroz. But tactical flexibility is what separates good coaches from great coaches and good teams from World Cup winning teams, so competence in another formation is a must. Bento started the troops in a 4-4-2, with regulars Joao Pereira and Bruno Alves joined by Andre Almeida and Ricardo Costa in defense. In midfield, the team played with two center midfielders and two wingers. William Carvalho and Miguel Veloso played centrally, while Nani and Varela occupied space on the wings. Up top were Helder Postiga and Eder, with Eduardo in goal. The new formation and patchwork lineup made it clear that this match would be used to experiment.
Portugal began the match brightly, with Nani and Eder almost connecting marvelously within the first two minutes. And indeed it looked as if the 4-4-2 suited Portugal well. Nani was playing surprisingly well on the right (considering his lack of playing time at Manchester United this season), and the team still had its natural flow. Eder tended to drop back more often than Postiga, helping link the midfield to the forwards or to spray the ball out wide to Varela or Nani. William Carvalho and Veloso both looked comfortable in the middle of the park, and though they are typically played in defensive-minded roles in midfield, they proved well versed in attacking football. The game ended with few chances, and although Portugal did not score, the team looked very bright at times.
Portugal will now travel to the United States for the remainder of their pre-World Cup tour, facing Mexico on the 6th and the Republic of Ireland on the 10th.
Eduardo(Beto), Joao Pereira, Andre Almieda, Bruno Alves, Miguel Veloso, William Carvalho(Neto), Nani(Rafa), Varela(Vieirinha), Eder(Ruben Amorim), Helder Postiga(Hugo Almeida)
Paulo Bento announced yesterday a list of 23 players that will represent Portugal at this summer’s World Cup. Seven players who were included in last week’s 30-man squad announcement were dropped. Some exclusions were predictable. Some not. Let’s look closer.
Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Rui Patricio (Sporting), Eduardo (Braga)
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Pepe (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Neto (Zenit), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Andre Almeida (Benfica)
Midfielders: Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), Rafa (Braga), William Carvalho (Sporting)
Forwards: Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Eder (Braga), Varela (Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg)
Standby players (dropped players): Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Rolando (Inter), Vitorino Antunes (Malaga), Quaresma (Porto), Andre Gomes (Benfica), Joao Mario (Vitoria Setubal), Ivan Cavaleiro (Benfica)
(2014, 2010, 2006)
Average Age of Squad: 28 years old, 27.8 years old, 27.9 years old
Average Caps of Squad: 35.9 caps, 27 caps, 34.5 caps
Number of Players from Liga Zon Sagres: 7, 10, 8
Number of Players from Premier League: 1, 3, 6
Number of Players from La Liga: 6, 6, 2
Number of Players from Serie A: 1, 0, 1
Number of Players from Ligue 1: 1, 1, 2
The inclusion of Rui Patricio and Beto are completely warranted. Few can argue that both Patricio and Beto are two of Portugal’s most in-form goalkeepers at the moment. Beto is coming off a successful season that saw him win the Europa League with Sevilla (and saving two penalties in the shoot-out in the final). Rui Patricio is already established as Portugal’s no.1, and his performances for Sporting Lisbon did nothing to hurt that this season, leading the Lisbon-based team to a second-placed finish in the Liga.
The last goalkeeper spot was between Anthony Lopes and Eduardo. While Anthony Lopes enjoyed a decent debut season for Lyon, establishing himself as the team’s starting goalkeeper, Eduardo has World Cup experience. During the previous World Cup, Eduardo was Portugal’s starting goalkeeper, and lest we remind you that his performances at the last World Cup earned him a move abroad to Genoa. While Anthony Lopes has an extremely bright future, and his performances this season may merit inclusion, the decision to choose Eduardo over him is one that I understand and agree with.
Bruno Alves, Pepe, Joao Pereira, and Fabio Coentrao are all staples in the Portuguese team. Pepe and Bruno Alves have flourished at Real Madrid and Fenerbahce, respectively. Alves played in 25 league games, helping Fenerbahce to their first Turkish League title since 2011. Though Real Madrid didn’t manage to win the title this season, Pepe performed admirably in 30 league games, firmly establishing himself as a starter. While Fabio Coentrao didn’t receive as much playing time as he may have liked, he did perform well when he did manage to get a game. According to WhoScored.com, Coentrao managed a 6.96 match rating in the 15 games he participated in in all competitions. While this is nothing spectacular, it shows that Coentrao has the ability to play at the top level, an ability he has shown time and time again while donning the Portugal jersey. His inclusion is a no-brainer. Joao Pereira is another player whose previous performances for the Seleccao merit an automatic call. Currently playing at Valencia, Pereira managed 25 league appearances, as the team only finished 8th in La Liga.
Ricardo Costa has proven himself in a Portugal shirt in the past, and though he 33 years old, he is still an important part of both Valencia and the Seleccao. This was an interesting decision from Bento. Rolando, who spent this past season on loan at Inter from Porto, performed admirably in the Serie A. Some would argue that this season was his finest of his career to date. An outcast at Porto, Rolando managed 29 appearances at Inter, a team many would argue are among the best in Europe. I think the issue of experience is the factor at play here. This World Cup will be Ricardo Costa’s third, while if Rolando was included, it would be his second. Costa also played more of a part in qualifying, most notably scoring in the team’s 1-1 draw with Israel. Moving to Russia, Luis Neto enjoyed a wonderful sophomore year at Zenit. Though the team were pipped by CSKA Moscow for the Russian Premier League title, Zenit performed well this season, and Neto was at the heart of the team’s defense, completing the season with 25 league appearances. The inclusion of Andre Almeida was an interesting one, but one that makes sense once thought about. Many have clamored for Cedric Soares, of Sporting Lisbon, to be called, and for good reason. Cedric impressed for the Portugal U-20 team as they finished runners-up to Brazil at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, then for Academica on loan from Sporting, then the Portugal U-21 team, and finally Sporting’s first team. This season, Cedric was the undisputed starter at right-back for Sporting, amassing 28 league appearances in the process. Andre Almeida, on the other hand, only managed 10 appearances in the league for Benfica. Why should Almeida be included over Cedric you may ask? This is why. Andre Almeida began his career in midfield, but has been transformed into a solid right-back. Also capable of filling in at left-back, Almeida has extreme versatility. By calling up Almeida, Bento essentially did not need to call up another left-back, due to Almeida’s versatility. This meant that there were more spots open for other attackers. Also, Almeida participated in three finals (two domestic Portuguese cups, one Europa League final). In addition to this, Almeida was a part of a title-winning team in Benfica. Cedric, while he performed magnificently for a Sporting team which managed a second-place finish, is simply not the best choice. There will come a time for Cedric, but this World Cup is not it.
The core of Portugal’s midfield in Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Raul Meireles are all obvious choices, though some not quite as obvious as in the past. Joao Moutinho has established himself as one of the finest box-to-box midfielders plying his trade in Europe at the moment. His performances for Monaco further proved it this season. Helping Monaco to a second-place finish in Ligue 1 this season, Moutinho made 31 league appearances in the process. His performances for the Seleccao have been nothing short of wonderful lately, and many are looking to Moutinho to continue making the Portuguese midfield “tick” at this summer’s finals. Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso have lost a considerable amount of stock lately. Though they have both put in performances ranging from solid to spectacular for Portugal in recent years, their performances have begun to noticeably decline. While Raul Meireles helped Fenerbahce win the Turkish League this season, Miguel Veloso only managed 20 league appearances, as Dynamo Kiev finished a disappointing 4th in the Ukrainian League. Even though Veloso and Meireles are noticeably on the decline, their spot is a certainty, due to prior performances. Even if they do not start, they offer a great deal of experience off the bench. William Carvalho, though he’s only appeared twice for the Seleccao, is another obvious inclusion. Carvalho’s performances this season for Sporting Lisbon have been nothing short of astounding. A virtual unknown before the start of the season, William Carvalho is now the subject of transfer speculation, most notably from Manchester United, who allegedly have a 37 million pound transfer in the works. And it’s no wonder. Carvalho won four of nine Liga Zon Sagres Player of the Month awards and six of nine Liga Zon Sagres Young Player of the Month awards. Many are clamoring for Carvalho to take Miguel Veloso’s spot in Portugal’s starting eleven as the midfield’s anchor. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.
Rafa is a slightly surprising inclusion to the team. An extremely attack-minded midfielder, Rafa made the move from Feirense to Braga at the beginning of the season, and has absolutely flourished in Braga. Teams such as Roma and Southampton are hot on his tails, and for good reason. Though Braga’s season went south very quickly, Rafa’s performances were certainly not a disappointment. The midfielder’s inclusion naturally comes at the expense of another. Josue made a highly-anticipated move from Pacos Ferreira to Porto at the beginning of the season. A regular under Porto coach Paulo Fonseca, Josue has found playing time and form very hard to come by since Fonseca was sacked. Many view Josue to be the successor to Raul Meireles in Portugal’s midfield, but it appears that that definitely won’t occur during this World Cup. Bento’s final midfield inclusion is perplexing for most: Ruben Amorim over Adrien Silva. Adrien Silva has established himself as one of the finest midfielders in Portugal at the moment, and some would argue he’s one of Portugal’s finest midfielders. Silva is in a similar position to Cedric. Silva was an integral part of Sporting’s team which finished second in the league this season, and many are rightly perplexed by his omission from the squad. Adrien is yet to make an appearance for the Seleccao, while Ruben Amorim has managed 10 appearances thus far in his career. Though Amorim is older, he has more experience on the national level for Portugal, while Adrien has none whatsoever. Amorim, like Andre Almeida, is a much more versatile player than Adrien. Amorim can fill in at right-back aptly, and can also fit in anywhere in the midfield. Ruben Amorim was also part of a team which won the domestic treble, and also participated in the Europa League final. Though he only made 17 league appearances this season, Amorim gained priceless experience at Benfica. This is not to say Adrien deserved to be included; just that Amorim is perhaps a bit better qualified. Adrien Silva will certainly have his time after the World Cup. Not to forget anyone, Andre Gomes and Joao Mario are both very talented players with bright futures ahead of them, but with all respect to Paulo Bento, their inclusion in the 30-man provisional list is laughable.
Ronaldo is really the only staple in Portugal’s forward line. The forward has enjoyed yet another wonderful season, scoring 31 goals in 30 games for Real Madrid, a statistic that normally is otherworldly. But for Ronaldo, it’s just another season. Nani, Hugo Almeida, and Helder Postiga are all favorites of Paulo Bento, and though none have enjoyed fruitful seasons respectively, they still have the ability to offer something for the Seleccao. Nani’s season at Manchester United was a mix of injury and lack of form, combining into a horrendous season, even worse than the rest of Manchester United’s season. Hugo Almeida enjoyed a decent season at Besiktas, managing to put the ball in the back of the net 13 times in 31 appearances. Helder Postiga’s season was not quite as fruitful as Almieda’s, but not as disastrous as Nani’s. After moving from Zaragoza to Valencia in the off-season, Postiga established himself as Valencia’s starting striker following the sale of Soldado to Tottenham. Only scoring three goals, most notably scoring two against Barcelona, Postiga was sent on loan to Lazio, where he has struggled with injury, and has only managed five appearances with no goals. Moving to the wing position, Varela has enjoyed another successful season at Porto. The winger amassed 48 appearances in all competitions, as Porto finished third in the league behind Benfica and Sporting. Few can forget Varela’s wonder-strike in Portugal’s group stage game against Denmark at Euro 2012. His goal gifted Portugal the victory, and many will hope that similar super-sub feats can be achieved by him this summer in Brazil. The final winger included in the squad is Wolfsburg’s Vieirinha. After starting the season promisingly, Vieirinha suffered an injury that has kept out until last month. Now fully recovered, Vieirinha managed a handful of appearances for Wolfsburg before the season ended. The final striker spot on the call goes to Eder, of Braga. After enjoying a wonderful season for Braga last season, Eder could not manage to replicate his form this season. Only scoring three goals this season, Eder never fully recovered from a loss of form due to injury. Can he find his form this summer? He might have to if/when Almeida and Postiga don’t perform. Can you sense my cynicism?
Northern Ireland 2-4 Portugal
2014 World Cup Qualfication
It was a night to remember for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain started and scored three goals in a 4-2 come-from-behind win against Northern Ireland in 2014 World Cup qualification. Accused of under-performing for Portugal in the past, those criticisms are quickly being forgotten. This win keeps Portugal at the top of their qualification group, ahead of Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland, and Luxembourg (though they’ve played one more game).
The game started off as a relatively even affair between the two teams. Bento had named a familiar starting lineup, one that has worked for him in the past. The first goal came in the 21st minute. A corner kick was swung in by Joao Moutinho. The ball met the head of a Northern Ireland defender, who cleared the ball to the edge of the box. Bruno Alves was waiting, and promptly side-foot-volleyed the ball into the bottom right corner of the net to make the score 0-1 in Portugal’s favor. This was the first clear opportunity of the night, and the quality of play was encouraging. Vieirinha, who replaced the off-form Nani in the starting lineup, came close with a near-post shot after some impressive wing-play. Play soon fell in the favor of the hosts, who began pressing Portugal more and more. Northern Ireland was soon rewarded when an in-swinging corner kick was met by the head of Gareth McAuley. With the scores leveled, Helder Postiga very stupidly picked up a red card just before half-time because of a failure to keep his temper in check. Both the teams went into the locker room level on the scoreboard, but Northern Ireland definitely had the run of play in their favor.
The second half started in the worst possible fashion for Portugal. Another corner kick from Northern Ireland caused confusion in the Portuguese box, allowing Jaime Ward to score his first international goal. It was not the start that Portugal had been hoping for, though it came as no surprise, given the events of the first half. Portugal began to press harder and harder after the goal, with Miguel Veloso most notably coming close with a long-range bullet. The equalizer came soon after Veloso’s effort. Moutinho swung in a corner kick, which was met by the head of Cristiano Ronaldo. The header was unstoppable, and the scores were now leveled at 2-2. The momentum was starting to shift, and Portugal began pushing even more, in search of a winning goal. That search only lasted about ten minutes. Fabio Coentrao picked up the ball deep on the left side, and sent an early, looping cross into the box. Ronaldo was there to head the ball in the net, making the score 3-2 in Portugal’s favor. The Selecaao (rather Ronaldo) weren’t done just yet. Winning a free kick on the edge of the box, Ronaldo struck the ball through the wall and into the Northern Irish net to make the score 4-2, and completing his first-ever hat-trick for Portugal.
Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles(Nani), Vieirinha(Nelson Oliveira), Ronaldo(Ruben Amorim), Helder Postiga
One of the chief criticisms of Portugal National Team boss Paulo Bento has been on his over-reliance on established players over new, up-and-coming talent. Bento would consistently pick the same players game after game, sometimes regardless of their club performances, while overlooking in-form younger players. Though the team has been wildly successful as compared to his predecessor, Carlos Queiroz’s, campaign, supporters of the team still find his player selection frustrating. This may all be changing, however.
For the games against Northern Ireland and Brazil later this week and next week, respectively, there appears to be a shift in the norm. Bento has begun calling up a new generation of players, an easy decision given the circumstances. In the 23 selected, there are four who have never made an appearance for the Seleccao, and a further five who have less than 10 caps. Players such as Lica and Josue (who have been stellar for Porto so far this season), Adrien and Andre Martins (who have been equally impressive for a new-look Sporting team), and Anthony Lopes, Antunes, and Neto (who are all starters in the top flights of France, Spain, and Russia, respectively) are all new to the team, and could very easily be important players by the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around.
A prime example of the shift from the old to the new is Luis Neto. After a stellar 2010-2011 season at second-division Varzim, Neto was snapped up by Nacional, in the Portuguese top flight. At Nacional, the central defender blossomed, instantly becoming the club’s most important player. His performances certainly did not go unnoticed, and Neto was transferred to Serie A club Siena for the 2012-2013 season. His performances for the struggling Siena were impressive enough that, after just over half-a-season later, he was transferred to Russian powerhouse Zenit St. Petersburg. At Zenit, he joined fellow compatriots Danny and Bruno Alves. Neto was almost immediately thrown into the starting lineup, and has since excelled. Only aged 25, Neto has established himself as a player on the rise in the world of football. The momentum has propelled him into national team action. As stated above, his performances had not gone unnoticed, and Paulo Bento surely noticed. Soon after his move to Zenit, Neto made his debut for the Seleccao, in a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Ecuador. It is widely understood that Neto will be the successor to Bruno Alves for the Seleccao. While the career of Alves, currently 31, is not over, he is most certainly in decline.
Though the perception of Paulo Bento is that his team selections are unfair and full of bias, that may all be changing. With the inclusions in this squad of four previously uncapped players in Lica, Josue, Anthony Lopes, and Adrien Silva, the momentum appears to be shifting. This is a natural process, and one that Portugal needs to accomplish if it has any hope of being competitive in the future.
Russia 1-0 Portugal
A first half goal from Aleksandr Kerzhakov was enough for Russia to earn a narrow 1-0 victory over a sub-par Portuguese side. This win ensured that Russia remains undefeated in Group F, and as a result of the loss, Portugal slips into second in the group.
There was an air of uncertainty surrounding Portugal prior to the start of the match, due to the questionable fitness of Raul Meireles, Pepe, and Ronaldo. Pepe and Ronaldo were able to shake of their minor injuries to start the match, but Raul Meireles was not as lucky. The starting lineup was the usual one, with Patricio in goal, Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao on the defensive flanks, and Pepe and Bruno Alves paired up in the center of the defense. Due to his injury, Raul Meireles was relegated to the bench, with Ruben Micael sliding in to replace him. Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho joined Micael to complete the midfield. Up top was Nani, Ronaldo, and Helder Postiga, the usual suspects.
The game started well for Portugal, but very quickly turned sour when Russia scored on virtually their first attack. A quick counterattack caught Portugal off guard, and Russia made the score 1-0. From that point on, Portugal’s game-plan was that of catch-up, while Russia seemed, for the most part, to be content with expertly absorbing the Portuguese attacks. Ronaldo and Bruno Alves underlined Portugal’s intent by drawing two stellar saves out of the Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, but Russia’s defense was prepared for everything the Seleccao threw at them. Portugal looked sharp, however, and an equalizer did not look too unlikely. Fabio Coentrao hobbled off injured after just 20 minutes of play, weakening Portugal’s attack. The half ended at 1-0, with Portugal wondering how they had not yet scored.
Russia came out in the second half raring to go, while Portugal surprisingly looked off the pace and lethargic. One would think that after Portugal fell behind, they would come out of the gates ready to go, but that was not the case. The second half was decidedly a Russia affair, with only sharp saves from Rui Patricio saving Portugal’s blushes. Even the inclusion of Silvestre Varela (lately dubbed at Portugal’s supersub) and Eder (has scored four goals this season for Braga) could not turn the tides.
Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Miguel Lopes), Ruben Micael(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Ronaldo, Nani, Helder Postiga(Eder)
Man of the Match: Bruno Alves
Flop of the Match: Helder Postiga
Portugal 3-0 Azerbaijan
A dominant display from the Portuguese National Team led them to a 3-0 victory over a lowly Azerbaijan side. The hosts showed much of the attacking prowess that they lacked against Luxembourg, and were unlucky that the scoreline was not higher in their favor. The team struck the crossbar an astonishing five times, as they ruthlessly attacked the Azerbaijani goal.
The game started brightly, which could not have been said about last week’s game against Luxembourg. Portugal were fully in the driving seat against Azerbaijan, and almost all of the action came from the home side. Joao Pereira and Raul Meireles both had efforts beaten away by the opposition goalkeeper in the opening exchanges between the two teams, before Helder Postiga almost finished off a wonderful team move, only to be denied by the crossbar. Joao Moutinho would then feel unlucky to see two excellent shots not translate into a goal, when one was saved by the keeper and the other thundered back off the crossbar. Portugal would continue to press, with Raul Meireles and Helder Postiga both coming close (the latter of which hit the crossbar). The half ended with the scores still even at 0-0 and Portugal wondering how they were not yet winning.
The second half started much the same as the first. It was evident that Portugal was hungry for a goal, and their play reflected that. Bruno Alves had a header saved soon after the restart, and Ronaldo went close soon after that on three different occasions. The goal was not far off, however. Silvestre Varela was substituted on for Miguel Veloso just after the hour mark, and the substitute made an immediate impact. Some sloppy defending from Azerbaijan opened up a golden opportunity for Varela, who calmly slotted the ball home for his third international goal. That goal did not cause Portugal to slow their attack, however. The Seleccao continued to press, but were constantly thwarted by either the post or the Azerbaijani goalkeeper. The second goal duly arrived a little more than twenty minutes after the first one. A pinpoint cross from Raul Meireles found Ronaldo, whose redirected his header into the path of the onrushing Helder Postiga, who poked the ball home. Portugal was not done, however. Joao Moutinho’s corner kick soon after was met with a thumping header from Bruno Alves into the upper right-hand corner to make the score 3-0. In the dying minutes of the match, Eder was substituted on to make his debut for the Seleccao. That was how the game ended: a comprehensive 3-0 victory for the hosts.
Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Miguel Veloso(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles, Ronaldo, Nani(Ruben Amorim), Helder Postiga(Eder)
As with any transfer window, there are always an excess of transfer rumors, some of which are believable, some of which are off the wall. We’ll bring you both, and you can decide for yourself which is which.
Zenit to Juventus, Porto, or Atletico Madrid?
Portuguese international defender Bruno Alves is hinting that a move away from Russia may be in the near future. The defender, who featured heavily in the Portuguese squad at this summer’s European Championships, was snapped up by Zenit in 2010 for a fee of over 20 million pounds. This move came after widespread speculation linking him to the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United. Since his move, he has established himself as an important player for the club. Now, Juventus, Porto, and Atletico Madrid are all said to be interested in the defender. As with Porto’s case, there has been talk of Zenit using Bruno Alves as a makeweight in a shock swoop for Hulk at Porto. Regardless, Atletico Madrid seem the most likely to win his signature, with Alves’ father stating that his son “would have no problem going to Atletico Madrid.”
Malaga to Benfica?
In the midst of financial turmoil, Malaga are looking to sell some of their most prized assets. Spanish international Santi Cazorla has already moved on to Arsenal, while Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon has made a seven million pound move to Russia. One player who has been important for the Spanish club over the past few seasons is Eliseu. A winger who was converted to left-back, Eliseu has impressed many with his performances for not only Malaga, but the Portuguese National team. It is no secret that Benfica are in the market for a left-back after the departure of Capdevila to Espanyol, and the underwhelming performances of Emerson. Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has even used Melgarejo, a Paraguayan forward, as a left-back, an indication that a true left-back is needed for the club. Benfica’s interest in Eliseu is not new, but there now may be more urgency behind the move. Benfica is not the only club interested in the winger, with six other unnamed clubs interested as well.
Besiktas to Atletico Madrid or Liverpool?
Dazzling winger Ricardo Quaresma looks to be on his way out of Turkish club Besiktas. After a wage dispute, it appears that Quaresma is being frozen out of the club, and is reportedly training with the club’s reserve team. The Portuguese international’s skill is undeniable. After an ill-fated move to Inter Milan earlier in his career, the winger’s glory days looked over. After his move to Besiktas, however, the winger gained back some of his confidence, and, once again, began to shine. Now, his days at Besiktas looked numbered. It is reported that Liverpool have reserved eight million pounds for his services, and Atletico Madrid will pounce should their deal with Crisitan Tello fall by the wayside.
In a ceremony on Sunday, Nike officially presented Portugal’s away kit for Euro 2012. The design is exactly the same as the leaked photo from a month back, being white with a red/green cross. Paulo Bento, Nelson Oliveira, Danilo Pereira, Raul Meireles, Bruno Alves, and Miguel Veloso were all present at the presentation. This is the jersey that will be worn in Portugal’s friendly against Poland tomorrow. Here are some of the pictures.