Newly-appointed Portuguese National Team head coach Fernando Santos announced today the squad to face France and Denmark on the 11th and 14th, respectively. And it is quite a breath of fresh air. Formerly exiled/ignored players such as Jose Fonte, Adrien Silva, Danny, Quaresma, and Ricardo Carvalho under Bento have been given a call by Santos. That, combined with new players such as Cedric, Joao Mario, and Ivo Pinto, gives Fernando Santos’s Portugal a fresh feel.Bento’s so-called “old guard” appear to be on the way out. Players like Raul Meireles, Ricardo Costa, Joao Pereira, Helder Postiga, and Hugo Almeida were omitted from the squad, making way for younger, newer players. Continue reading
It’s About Time
3 Reasons Why Portugal Needs to Tap Into Their ‘Fountain of Youth’ RIGHT NOW!
I still can’t get over it. And when I blink, it’s like I’m watching the whole thing all over again. I floss, and I think about Joao Moutinho’s flat cross. I mop, and I think about Nani coming to a complete stop. I order a pizza slice, and I think about Eder’s version of Bambi on ice. It’s that game… that miserable excuse of a game where Portugal actually lost 1-0 at home to Albania.
In terms of horrifying matches to experience, it ranks right up there with the Euro 2004 final – it gave me a loss of appetite, laryngitis, nausea, dizziness, and a broken remote control. But, what sets them apart is that this latest result didn’t come with a broken heart. It came with a full-blown crisis. And that makes things even worse. Continue reading
Following Portugal’s abysmal World Cup campaign, many are calling for an entire squad overhaul. And whether or not that will happen is anybody’s guess. Paulo Bento has earned quite a reputation for favoritism, consistently choosing the same players time and time again. While these players have performed well for Portugal in the past, many of their performances recently have been far from their best. For instance, for this World Cup, Bento called up players such as Helder Postiga, Nani, and Eder, none of whom played regularly at all last season. Some would argue that players such as Postiga, Nani, and Eder don’t deserve to play for the national team due to a lack of playing time at their clubs, and that players who play club football more regularly should earn the call instead. Essentially, Paulo Bento is rewarding mediocrity. The competition for places on the team has dwindled to nothing. Good performances won’t earn a call-up.
Many Portuguese fans have felt this way recently, and many feel the World Cup highlighted the holes in Paulo Bento’s plan. With Paulo Bento to stay in charge until at least Euro 2016, a change in coach does not look likely. The only think fans can hope for is a change in mentality from Bento. At the heart of this change should be a re-evaluation of the squad: determining which players deserve a place in the team, and discarding those who don’t.
So, here are 12 players who deserve a place in Paulo Bento’s squad, in no particular order.
Lima has played in Portugal ever since the 2009-2010 season, when he joined Belenenses from the lower divisions in Brazil. After a successful first season at Belenenses, Braga purchased the striker, who became a cult figure at the club. In his second season at Braga, Lima truly came of age. In 30 appearances, Lima scored 20 times, helping Braga to an impressive 3rd place finish, and also finishing as the joint top goalscorer in Portugal. As a result of his scoring exploits, Benfica came knocking. And in the two seasons he has been at Benfica, Lima has managed 34 goals in 56 appearances. Portugal has a long-standing striker problem ever since the retirement of Pauleta. Hugo Almeida, Helder Postiga, Nelson Oliveira, and more recently Eder have all been given chances, but none have truly won over the position. Though Lima was born in Brazil and has only been in Portugal for five years, naturalization is certainly an option. Lima isn’t getting any younger, however. At 31, Bento may have to act sooner rather than later if he wants Lima in the national team.
In the past two seasons, fans of Sporting Lisbon and the Portuguese national team have witnessed Cedric Soares realize his potential. Always regarded as one of Portuguese football’s brightest prospects, Cedric has made the starting right-back spot at Sporting his own. The defender helped Sporting to an impressive 2nd place finish this season, playing in 28 matches for the club. And still only 22, Cedric has the time to develop further and to become an important member of the Seleccao for years to come.
Arguably Sporting’s finest player last season, his exclusion from the Portuguese team for the World Cup left many with a bad taste in their mouths. In the mold of a stylish no. 10, Adrien Silva is a creative spark behind Sporting, and a huge reason that the team finished as high on the table as they did. His call to the national team last season shows that Paulo Bento is not averse to his inclusion in the team, but a place in the starting eleven may be a bit harder to achieve. Bento is known to favor a three-man midfield of Veloso, Moutinho, and Meireles, which worked wonders at Euro 2012. Since then, that combination has fallen flat many a time. And with Bento not even willing to change his midfield trio with the inclusion of proven talent William Carvalho, a place for Adrien may be a long time off.
Sporting Lisbon employed much the same tactic last season as Portugal does currently. Both teams play a 4-3-3, with virtually the same midfield set-up. William Carvalho provides the defensive anchor, Andre Martins provides some tenacity and creative spark, and Adrien does the dirty work, while also popping in with some creativity. Andre Martins enjoyed a solid season at Sporting, which was his first in the top flight that saw him perform regularly. With two senior team caps under his belt, Martins has already been in and around the team, and at the very least can provide cover for the ageing Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso.
Bento made a bold decision with his team selection this summer. Instead of choosing a natural left-back as back-up for Fabio Coentrao, Bento chose utility man Andre Almeida, who is capable of playing almost anywhere in midfield and defense. Almeida is a right-footed player, who Bento employed at left-back. A series of mediocre performances followed from Almeida, who while solid, lacked any attacking acumen going forward. Antunes, on the other hand, is equally adept at attacking and defending, a quality that he has showed at Malaga, where he has won a starting spot at left-back. And he is no stranger to the national team. Having appeared for the team after an impressive U-20 World Cup showing in 2007, Antunes fell off the radar after an ill-fated move abroad to Roma. But after finding his way back to Portugal, Antunes earned a move to Malaga, where he has flourished, appearing 36 times last season alone. His performances have not gone unnoticed, with West Ham reportedly naming Antunes as one of their top targets.
Jose Fonte, despite being somewhat of an unknown in English football, has become one of the driving forces behind Southampton’s baffling rise to the English Premier League. Fonte became a regular for Championship side Crystal Palace after leaving Sporting before the 2007-2008 season. Establishing himself as a started, Fonte spent three seasons at the club before agreeing to a move to Southampton, who were at that time playing in the third tier of English football: League 1. Many were taken aback by this decision, but few will fault the defender now. Two seasons in League 1 saw them promoted to the Championship, and after only one season, the team earned passage into the English Premier League. During the entirety of this revival, Fonte maintained a starting position, and has kept it during his two seasons in the Premier League. And he hasn’t only kept it. He’s become one of the club’s finest performers. Last season, whoscored.com rated Fonte at 7.21, making him the second best performer for Southampton. Though he is 30 years old and not getting any younger, stats like that are hard to ignore. Once again, he at least deserves to earn a call to the team.
Portugal has been gifted with talented goalkeepers in recent years. Players such as Vitor Baia, Ricardo, and Eduardo have graced the spot in between the sticks in recent years, and more recently, Rui Patricio has rightfully made the starting spot his own. And even after Patricio’s injury at this World Cup, backup goalkeeper Beto slid in an performed with confidence and skill. Of the three goalkeepers that Bento called on this summer, only two are still playing regularly in a top league. Beto was instrumental in Sevilla’s Europa League win last season, and Rui Patricio is one of Sporting Lisbon’s shining jewels. Eduardo, on the other hand, played well for Braga last season on loan from Genoa, but has transferred to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. The point of this is not to say that Dinamo is not a good team, but rather to point out that the Croatian league is not anywhere close to being a top league. It’s not even comparable to, let’s say, the French league. And now we come to Anthony Lopes, who was Lyon’s starting goalkeeper last season, appearing 32 times in the league. And this season, it looks as if not much will change. With Lopes playing regularly against players like Ibrahimovic and Falcao, why not call him up to the team, even if it is to serve as a back-up.
Guerreiro deserves to be considered for the National Team. I highlighted the left-back in an article last week, and the reason is clear. Guerreiro is playing regularly for a team in the top division in France, and is only 20 years old. There is a chance that he could switch alliances and choose to play for France, a move that would be devastating for Portugal. He won’t take the starting spot from Coentrao, and no one is expecting him to. But he certainly deserves a chance in the team, even if it is initially just to tie him down to Portugal.
You may be wondering why Quaresma was included on this list; a player who has dozens of caps for Portugal. The reason is simple. Paulo Bento chose to leave Quaresma at home this World Cup, instead choosing Vieirinha, who had just come off a season ravaged by injuries. While Quaresma’s seasons recently have been lackluster, once the winger arrived at Porto in January, he looked a different player. And 10 goals in 24 appearances later, many were left scratching their heads when Bento left Quaresma off the team. Quaresma could have surely brought something to the team, at the very least as backup. While he is 30 and will soon be 31, Quaresma still possesses a skillset that can be of use to the team.
Few were expecting for Diogo Figueiras to have the impact last season that he did. After an impressive 2012-2013 debut season for Pacos Ferreira, Figueiras earned a move to Spanish club Sevilla. Still a virtual unknown, the right-back managed an impressive 22 first team appearances for the Spanish club, helping the team as they won the Europa League. With first-choice right back Coke a possibility to leave, Figueiras will look to build on what was a very solid first season at Sevilla. And one way he can build on his season is to be rewarded with a call to the National Team, something that he undoubtedly deserves. He is certainly capable of providing competition for Joao Pereira.
Another member of Sevilla’s impressive Europa League winning squad last season, Daniel Carrico is enjoying something of a revival after a horrendous season in England. Once viewed as Sporting Lisbon’s golden boy, Carrico was given captaincy at the Portuguese club at just 22. But the center defender’s form dropped as Sporting muddled through some of their worst seasons in history. As a result, Carrico was sold for close to nothing to newly promoted Premier League side Reading. At Reading, Carrico only managed a handful of appearances, and a loan deal to Sevilla for the 2013-2014 season was arranged. In his season at Sevilla, Carrico became one of the club’s most dependable performers, with his performances earning him a permanent move this summer. Long thought of as one of Portugal’s most up and coming defenders, few will argue that Carrico reached the potential that many saw in him during his Sporting years. But few will argue that Carrico’s season last time out was one of his finest. And not only that, but he is versatile. Capable of playing both at center back and defensive midfield, versatility is something that Paulo Bento looks for. So Paulo…nudge nudge.
Often labeled as Manchester United’s biggest flop, many English football fans assumed that Bebe’s career was a joke and that he had very little to offer the world of football. Oh how they are wrong. Rightly derided in England, Bebe’s time at Manchester United, though not abysmal, was certainly not worthy of the price that the club paid for his services. But a good decision on their part was to loan him back to Portugal. A semi-successful loan to Rio Ave during the 2012-2013 season was followed by a hugely successful loan to Pacos Ferreira last season. At Pacos, Bebe finished the season as the top scoring Portuguese player in the league, which is even more impressive when one considers that the winger was playing for a team who had to avoid relegation via a playoff. Following arguably his most impressive season yet, Benfica are extremely close to signing him, and you can expect that he won’t be loaned out.
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?
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.