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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Time for the Good, Bad, and Ugly:

Good

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

Bad

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

STOP IT!!

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

Opinion: Sporting 1-1 Benfica: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


Benfica and Sporting came into the Lisbon Derby on Sunday with something to prove and it was a must win for both sides to quiet the skeptic supporters at both ends of the pitch. The conclusion in the first round of the Lisbon Derby was an entertaining 1-1 draw. Unfortunately for both teams this log jam on the field has dropped them behind pre-season favourites FC Porto in the race for the Liga crown.

Sporting CP is already 4 points adrift of Porto in the standings only 3 matches in (W 1, L 0, D 2), so soon after their feisty play last year in the Liga saw them rewarded with a second place finish in the standings. Although it is way too early to panic as a Sporting fan, the Lions are still working through the mess that Godinho Lopes caused at the club a couple of years ago, and this off-season the club was meant to strengthen their core without too many player losses. With their core players still intact (losing Rojo, Dier, & Elias in the off-season), Sporting arrived at da Luz with Nani, a new Manager and expectations of grandeur.

Across the field Jorge Jesus has had a very difficult off-season after winning the Primeira League title last term, his roster has been decimated by player transfers losing Garay, Oblak, Cardozo, Markovic, Rodrigo, Gomes, Siqueira, and Cavaleiro (in order of importance) to other clubs looking to replicate Benfica’s success the last few seasons (#5 in Euro Club Standings). Jesus has been very vocal about his displeasure saying that although his name is Jesus he doesn’t create miracles, in response to the exodus of players. He has also been uncharacteristically vocal in his criticism of Luis Felipe Vieira’s player acquisitions, saying he doesn’t have enough talent to work with on numerous occasions to the content of the rabid jornalists in Portugal. The irony is that he has had his best start to the Liga whilst at Benfica this season (SLB came into the game with W 2 L 0).

This was the backdrop to this battle of the behemoths at the Stadium of Light, both Managers being scrutinized under the microscope of their passionate followers and journalistic scribes on a warm Sunday evening in front of 61,895 spectators.

Benfica 1-1 Sporting - Derby lineups August 2014

Starting Lineups


Sporting CP

GK: Patricio
Defense: Esgaio, Maurico, Sarr, Jefferson
Midfield: Carvalho, Martins, Silva
Forwards: Carrillo, Nani, Slimani

From Marco Silva’s perspective, it was a very standard 4-3-3 Sporting formation with strength and talent in the midfield, danger on the wings and a formidable striker to cash in some lively goals. The line-up was as expected with the main question marks at the back.

Benfica

GK: Artur
Defense: Eliseu, Jardel, Luisao, Maxi
Midfield: Almeida, Enzo
Forwards: Salvio, Gaitan, Talisca, Lima

Jesus’ line-up had some futebol pundits questioning if revisions were in order, as was rightfully discussed on the Benfica Podcast with Alfredo & Co. and in a subsequent article by Neil Fernandes that previewed this Derby match. There were questions about Talisca’s role, Lima’s play, and whether Gaitan should be used as an Attacking Mid to allow Ola John to patrol the left wing and add more bite to the attack.

As expected, Jesus rolled out his usual line-up with no surprises, Talisca was used as an Attacking Mid/Sub Striker, and Ola John never even made an appearance (Mental Note: Check to see if Ola has any relatives with Portuguese passports or is related to Nolito or Capedevila).


 

The expectations were for both teams to play a spirited game and they did. The match had intensity going back and forth in possession at the same time remaining relatively clean, as there were 6 yellow cards handed out on the night by Pedro Proenca.

Some of the questions going into the game were:

Who would be behind the Benfica bench?

JJ was thrown out of last week’s game with Boavista for getting into an argument with the referee at half time, in the end he only received a minor fine, and warning by the LPFP, so was able to manage on the night.

Would the real Nani show up?

Nani’s confidence has eroded the last couple of years, and coming back to Sporting was a major coup for Bruno de Carvalho, especially when he has Manchester United footing the majority of Nani’s wages, but the question is how quickly he can assimilate himself into the squad? With new team mates around and very little training time, many wondered aloud if he would have an impact in the derby match. On the night he had a decent game turning provider on a few dangerous plays, but lacked the shooting boots at times when he was presented with gifts in and around the box. So the jury is still out on Nani, but for Sporting’s sake and that of the Portuguese National Team we hope he gets back in gear sooner rather than later.

Could Benfica’s weakened midfield handle the hot mid core of Sporting?

Many including myself wondered with Fejsa & Amorim’s injuries whether rarely used Almeida would be able to help Enzo Perez cope with the triple threat in Sporting’s midfield core. Almeida is fairly feisty and it wasn’t a major concern of mine as I think he is better suited to that position, although in fairness lacks the big league experience in that role. The midfield battle was spirited all night and made for a great game with possession almost split down the middle, Sporting with 51% and SLB with 49%, so I think both SLB players fared well in the face of the opposition.

How would Sporting’s decimated back line hold-up against Benfica’s fierce attack?

Losing Dier and Rojo clearly makes the defence the weakest link in the Sporting chain, and they were carved up throughout the game. Benfica out-chanced Sporting 17 shots to 11, and for the most part were of the dangerous variety. On many occasions Lima blew past Esgaio to make some lethal passes across the face of goal and there were too many scoring opportunities inside the heart of the box. Fortunately for the back four Patricio was on fire and the Portuguese International Keeper made some world class saves, furthermore Benfica clearly will rue all the missed chances in the face of goal.

Who could replace the scoring of Lion killer Oscar Cardozo?

Oscar had 13 goals against Sporting in his time at Benfica and almost singlehandedly won derby matches for the Eagles at times. Unfortunately no one in the end did fill his shoes. Gaitan had a wonder goal but missed badly on at least two other occasions to wrestle control over the game. Lima is unfortunately better suited to playing in a sub striker role and was rarely in position to score inside the box. Salvio needed to tighten the laces on his dancing shoes as he missed some glorious chances (excuse the pun) in the goal mouth.

How would Slimani play after being suspended by SCP for trying to force a transfer?

Slimani excelled on the night, and was as good as in the recent World Cup with Algeria where he turned heads. He is a livewire at the front and gets himself into threatening positions. His pressure of Artur helped to create the error that led to his tying goal in the first half. Although some fans took exception on twitter to him kissing the emblem after he scored, because of his attempted hijack of the transfer process. BdC did well to hold onto his investment and Slimani will be an important cog in the Sporting attack this season.

Would Jesus start one of his crazy BIG Match Line-ups that have people scratching their heads?

For a big game match this was about as sensible as JJ gets, although a few fans did scratch their heads at how Derley was the only sub used, and with good reason. Talisca had received medical treatment twice during the game, and the shift of Gaitan to the 10 role and addition of a speed demon like Ola on the left to frustrate Esgaio, who was already on a yellow, might have been what the doctor ordered. Also Bebe could’ve been brought on to provide some goal scoring punch from the Sub Striker role considering he scored 11 goals last season with Pacos but it was all for not.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly


Good:

Gaitan

Maxi

Patricio

Slimani

The Fans

Bad:

Sporting Defence

JJ’s one sub

Ola not playing

Both teams dropped points on Porto in the race for the title

Ugly:

Minuscule fine JJ has to pay

Artur’s Frango

I left Artur’s frango for last as it is definitely the big talking point of the match, and he was sarcastically voted Man of the Match on Abola.

I feel for the guy he is a good goalkeeper and makes some wonderful saves, as he did for the majority of the match, but like Jorge Jesus sometimes in Big Games he makes some colossal screw-ups that end up costing Benfica the win. Like Nani his confidence isn’t at its highest, but I am not sure Julio Cesar will do better (as was witnessed in the World Cup). Although this frango will surely have Artur rooted to the bench for the next match. Let’s see what Julio can do, it is his job for the taking at this point.

All in all this Derby was a great match between two title contenders that are still working through their kinks, and the one that can find consistency first will challenge Porto for the title this season. It has many fans including myself looking forward to the mouth-watering Liga games to come, add to that Rio Ave is crushing teams, Braga has improved, as well as Guimaraes turning in good performances and this looks to be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory.

Stay tuned for more.