It’s the weekend of love in the Liga NOS and around the world, and, dare I say, I’m in quite the jovial mood with regards to my predictions. But, much like being in a relationship, that feeling of warmth can dissipate rather quickly.
Now, I’m still fighting an uphill battle with a 14-22 overall record up to this point, but, things are starting to improve and I’m starting to show a little consistency in this game. Last week saw me go 4-5 for the second round in a row and, with the exception of that disastrous 1-8 result a couple of weeks ago, I’ve pretty much been hovering around the .500 mark. I don’t know about you but that’s a lot better than I expected when I decided to give this series a go.
This is a new round though – the 21st round of play in the newly named Liga NOS – and, from the looks of it, it’s going to be quite an interesting one to take in.
Last week was all about unpredictability what with all the changes in personnel over the days prior, and well, we certainly got some in the results. In particular, it seemed like no lead was safe as, of the 21 goals scored in total, 8 of them came in the last 10 minutes of the game. It was quite the spectacle and reminded me of why I love this league and Portuguese football so much.
Building on the events of the last couple of weeks, and, the idea of unpredictability itself, the theme for this week seems to be identity. Or, to put it another way – who are we and what are we made of?
This is, in a lot of ways, a make or break weekend for every team in the league. Teams like Academica, Arouca, and even Guimaraes may just find themselves sitting disheveled on the couch eating a tub of ice cream asking “What if…?” at the end of the season if they don’t turn things around as soon as possible. And, what of Penafiel and Sporting? Will they be able to bounce back and continue to play well following heartbreaking results?
This weekend, perhaps more than most other weekends, will go a long way towards determining what the league table looks like at the end of the year, and, I think many of these clubs are aware of that. So, don’t be surprised to see a number of cagey matches over the next few days. Teams will not only be looking to be cautious with their opponents, but, in a philosophical sense, they’ll be looking to discover themselves as well.
Much of the news coverage for this past weekend’s action in Portugal was predictably centered around the Lisbon derby between Sporting CP and SL Benfica. While that game offered much in terms of excitement, there was plenty of other action in the league this weekend. Here’s the round-up: Continue reading →
Ricardo Quaresma’s stunning trivela goal stole the show. Photo: Maisfutebol
After last weekend’s upset-filled action, Round 19 returned a sense of normalcy. Sporting, Braga, Benfica, and Porto all recorded wins over potentially tricky opponents, while Nacional and Rio Ave continued to climb the table. Here’s all the action, as it happened. Continue reading →
Paulo Fonseca’s touchline ban can only hurt Pacos Ferreira’s chances against Porto this weekend. Photo: Publico
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. You won’t find a better analysis of last weekend’s Primeira Liga action than Charles Dickens’ introductory sentiment in his classic A Tale of Two Cities. It was as if the Portuguese soccer world turned on its head overnight: All the minnows became giants and all the winners became losers. All, that is, except for the Lions of Lisbon, who were the only top-five team to escape the round with a victory.
Depending on where you pledge your allegiance, you were either thrilled or distraught; no doubt most neutrals loved the results as they blew what was once a foregone conclusion of a title race wide open to a three team race that, if last week’s scores are anything to go by, could go either way down the stretch.
As Portuguese football fans, we were treated to a number of curious results and shock upsets that thoroughly entertained us in one way or another; as Portuguese football prognosticators, however, we were made complete fools of and left to pick up the pieces of our shattered confidence.
My confidence in particular has left the building along with Elvis: I only correctly guessed the winner of one match (Sporting over Academica) and came away from the weekend with an embarrassing 1-8 record. I now have an overall record of 6-12. Yikes. I guess my new approach didn’t pay off huh?
Something tells me I wasn’t the only one cryin’ like a hound dog when it was all over though. I mean, who in their right mind would’ve tipped Vitoria de Guimaraes to drop points at home against last place Gil Vicente, or, Benfica, Porto, AND Braga to lose to the likes of Pacos de Ferreira, Maritimo, and Boavista? It’s insanity I tell ya – insanity!
But, let’s be honest, that’s what makes betting – even just friendly betting with no money involved – fun. Nothing is a sure thing no matter how much we’d like to believe it is, and, it’s the mystery that keeps us engaged.
Speaking of a mystery, who knows how my picks will play out this week? If I have another terrible showing I might just revert to flipping a coin or pulling teams out of a hat to see if my record becomes more respectable. But, for the time being, I’m taking one more chance without literally resorting to chance. Here are my inclinations for the 19th round of play: Continue reading →
Rafa Silva was hugely impressive for Braga against Pacos Ferreira. Photo: Getty Images
It was an exciting weekend in the Primeira Liga, with a lot of movement in the table. Victories from Braga, Porto, Benfica, and Sporting all helped cement their places high up the table, while further losses from Gil Vicente, Nacional, and Vitoria Setubal slipped them further down the table. The match of note this weekend was Braga’s convincing 3-0 victory over the impressive Pacos de Ferreira. Let’s take a look at all the action. Continue reading →
This weekend saw the return of the Primeira Liga after a three week break. Braga, Sporting, and Porto all claimed large wins, while Vitoria Guimaraes won yet again, propelling the team to second in the table. Elsewhere, Gil Vicente and Penafiel slipped further into the relegation zone with a draw and a loss, respectively. Continue reading →
The Portuguese league kicked off this past weekend, much to the delight of the followers of the Portuguese game. Here’s the round-up by Mitchell Rua of all the matches played this weekend.
A Dream Debut (FC Porto 2-0 Marítimo)
FC Porto opened their campaign with a solid display against European hopefuls Marítimo in front of a packed Estádio do Dragão, capped off by goals from teenage debutant Ruben Neves Jackson Martinez.
Neves, the youngest player to start a league match for the Dragões opened the scoring after just 12 minutes, as the young Tripeiro rifled a shot from inside the penalty area past keeper Salin after receiving a deflected cross from the left.
Leonel Ponte’s men tried to respond, with Diego Sousa and Fran Sergio testing Fabiano, but to no avail, as Porto controlled most of the first-half. Oliver Torres was at the heart of each attack, with impressive ball circulation as both Quaresma and Brahimi wreaked havoc on the wings.
The second half brought an improved display as Marítimo’s resolve waned. Jackson began to rise to the occasion, with a couple of half-chances falling his way. Pontes threw on former Guimaraes striker Maazou in the hope of salvaging a point but opportunities were few and far between as the Madeirenses rued missed chances.
It was Lopetegui’s substitutes, Evandro and Tello that brought some much needed attacking penetration. The latter’s jinking run from the right and pass into the path of Cha Cha Cha was converted at the second attempt at the death as Porto got the deserved three points.
Gaitán answers his critics as Benfica break the curse (Benfica 2-0 Paços de Ferreira)
Benfica put in a dominant performance against last year’s bottom dwellers Paços in a match earmarked by the in-from Nicolas Gaitán, breaking a 10 year drought of opening games without a win.
Fonseca’s troops started the better of the two sides, wasting a golden opportunity from the penalty spot as Manuel Joe’s spot kick was saved by Artur with a diving save in potentially his last game for the Águias.
Gaitán found a vein of form sorely missed from his early Benfica days with two assists. The Argentine ran riot as Os Castores undoubtedly rueing missed opportunities as Maxi Pereira and Salvio netted a goal in each half.
The only blip on the Benfica radar came with an injury to combative workhorse Enzo Perez in potentially his last game for the club with the rumour mill in full swing over a potential transfer.
False start for Silva and co. (Académica1-1 Sporting CP)
Sporting disappointed in their opening tie of the season, dropping two points to The Students. Os Verde-e-Brancos came into the tie having not lost in 36 years in Coimbra, and after Carillo’s header from a fine Jefferson cross it looked as if this trend would continue.
Marco Silva’s side took advantage of an Académica side under renovation, with sixteen departures and a new-look defence accounting for Sporting’s dominance, although the tie had not yet been put to bed after a flurry of opportunities to the visitors.
As the game wore on, Sporting’s stranglehold gradually weakened. Missing Slimani’s presence in the final third due to disciplinary measures, an out-of-touch William, sent off for a second bookable offence, and a Cédric injury opened the door for the home side.
In the end, Académica were able to salvage a point with from a Carrillo error as a last-gasp equaliser from Rafael Lopes sharing the points, much to the delight of the Mancha Negra faithful and coach Paulo Sergio: “There’s merit, but it’s only a point.”
Reality check for the Panthers (Braga 3-0 Boavista)
One of only two clubs outside the ‘Big Three’ to have won the league, Boavista was given a huge wakeup call against the Arsenalistas.
Six years after being demoted to the second division, and subsequently the third tier, Os Axadrezados, and former player, turned coach Petit, have a lot of hard work to do, conceding a goal to Pedro Tiba inside a minute.
History aside, the gulf in class was evident as Ruben Micael and Éder added further misery. A leaner footballing calendar for Sérgio Conceição could spell European football next season and a tilt at the coveted title that alluded them three years prior.
Guimaraes and Belenenses impress as Moreirense surprise
Belenenses and Vitoria Guimaraes both impressed away from home with 3-1 wins. Rui Vitória was “satisfied with the result” as a brace from B team graduate Hernani sandwiched a Bernard strike against Os Galos in Barcelos.
Newly-promoted Penafiel’s frailties were exposed Lito Vidigal’s Belenenses as the Lisbon-side left with three points thanks to goals from Sturgeon, Deyverson and Miguel Rosa, with Joao Martin’s penalty doing little to stop the organised outfit from Belem.
In Vila do Conde, European debutants Rio Ave continued to ride a wave of from after a solid 2-0 victory in a game with three red cards. Pedro Martins’ ten men took the lead through Diego Lopes having gone a man down, with a red card from Setubal’s Zequinha followed by Marcelo’s strike in the 77th minute, putting the game to bed. A late Manu sending off made little difference as Paciência made a poor start in his return to Portuguese football.
The biggest surprise of the round came with victory from Moreirense at the Choupana against Nacional, with Miguel Leal’s side finding the back of the net through substitute Ramon Cardozo. The former Setubal striker is known to have a keen eye for goal and he was the difference in the 80th minute as Machado’s men were left with egg on their face.
Jose Couceiro’s first game in charge of the league’s surprise package over the last couple of seasons, Estoril, ended in a stalemate. Last year’s new boys Arouca opened the scoring through Pintassilgo in the 17th minute, making the most of a Ruben Fernandes error. Estoril quickly responded; the Canarinhos scoring through former GD Chaves striker Kuca. Neither side could settle the tie, Couceiro venting his frustrations: “We created various opportunities on goal, but we paid for our mistakes.”
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.
Sporting Lisbon announced their fifth signing of the off season yesterday with the presentation of Andre Geraldes from Istanbul BB. Sporting has been the most active Portuguese team in the current transfer window thus far, and the right-back is sure to not be the last signing. According to sources, Geraldes was signed to provide competition for Cedric Soares at the right-back position. The defender has joined on a 5-year deal for an undisclosed amount and a 45 million euro buyout clause, as is common with Portuguese teams.
Andre Geraldes began his career at Rio Ave, where he gained notoriety while on loan at Aves in the Portuguese second division. Though he never managed a first-team appearance for Rio Ave, he was transferred to Turkish first division side Istanbul BB, coached by fellow Portuguese Carlos Carvalhal. After 30 impressive appearances in his debut season for the Turkish club, Geraldes was loaned to struggling Liga Zon Sagres side Belenenses for the second half of this past season. 12 appearances later, his performances caught the attention of league runners-up Sporting Lisbon, who have promptly snapped him up on a 5-year deal.
This move raises more questions than it answers. Miguel Lopes, who is one of Sporting Lisbon’s top earners (and also a right-back) is returning from a season-long loan at French side Lyon. Though Lopes battled with injuries, he performed admirably when he was fit, establishing himself as an important first team player. It was announced that Lopes would join Sporting on their pre-season tour, which can be taken to mean that he could be staying with the club next season. If he indeed does stay, the team will have three very competent right-backs in Cedric, Geraldes, and Lopes. One will surely have to be loaned out or sold.
There have been very few transfer rumors surrounding Cedric, but his performances last season will surely have caught the attention of other clubs. Could he be the one who leaves? Or will Miguel Lopes depart once again on loan?
Portugal’s Liga Zon Sagres has formed a reputation for being one of the best formative leagues in Europe. With a seemingly endless conveyer-belt of talent flowing out of the league, it is no wonder that so many young players choose Portugal over other countries. Players such as David Luiz, Fabio Coentrao, Di Maria, Joao Moutinho, Hulk, and Falcao (among others) have all spent their formative years in the Iberian country, only to make multi-million euro moves abroad to some of the finest teams in the world.
This season, there are many young Portuguese talents who will be hoping to emulate the likes of Coentrao and Joao Moutinho; with hopes to earn a big move abroad; with hopes to be noticed by Paulo Bento and be selected for the national team. Regardless, there is much hope, both for the players and the spectators. At the root of all of this is a single hope: that Portuguese football may grow.
In this segment, Portugal Football is highlighting 25 under-22 Portuguese players from across the Liga Zon Sagres. These players are certainly players to watch for. Some are already proven players, while some are yet to showcase their talents on the big stage. So, without further ado, the ones to watch.