Part I: Primeira Liga 2014/2015 Top 10 Under-24…Outside the “Big Three”


Ricardo Valente (right), pictured here celebrating a goal scored against arch-rivals SC Braga this season.

Ricardo Valente (right), pictured here celebrating a goal scored against arch-rivals SC Braga this season.

At the end of last season, PortugalFutbol.net outlined the Primeira Liga’s top 5 under-24 Portuguese players playing outside of Portugal’s “Big Three” clubs (Sporting, Porto, Benfica). The purpose of this list was to shed to light some of the league’s lesser-talked about up-and-coming talent. For instance, out of the five players listed in last year’s edition, four of them have made their National Team debut since last season. This year, PortugalFutbol has expanded this list to ten.

For the purposes of brevity, we’ve split this year’s list into two parts. Part I outlines the honorable mentions, while Part II will reveal the actual Top 10 players listing.  Continue reading

MID-SEASON REPORT: 10 Portuguese Players Who Could Break Out This Season


Andre Gomes has been a revelation this season for Valencia. Photo: John Sibley / Reuters

Andre Gomes has been a revelation this season for Valencia. Photo: John Sibley / Reuters

There is no question that the Portuguese national team is in a transitional phase. The Selecção’s group stage exit in Brazil just reinforced the claim that the squad will look very different in the next few years. There has perhaps never been a time in recent memory when the country has had so many promising young players.

In the summer, we chose ten that we thought would be able to make a positive impact at club level this season. Since then, four of these players have made their debuts for the senior Selecção, to go along with André Gomes and Bruma who had been selected before. This article will look at the progress of each player and will assign them a grade based on their development so far. Continue reading

Preview: Portugal vs Armenia


Tiago Gomes could start against Armenia. Photo Record.xl.pt

Tiago Gomes could start against Armenia. Photo Record.xl.pt

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

U-21s Edge Norway


Photo: Portuguese Football Federation

Photo: Portuguese Football Federation

Norway 1-2 Portugal

2015 UEFA U-21 Euro Qualification

The Portuguese Under-21 team defeated Norway 2-1 yesterday to continue their perfect qualification campaign for the 2015 UEFA U-21 European Championship. The game was a much different encounter than the last time the two teams met, which ended in a 5-1 demolition by Portugal. This time out, the two teams were much more evenly-matched, and Portugal was not able to waltz to victory. This win kept Portugal at the top of Group 8 with a perfect record. The team has only conceded five goals in the seven matches thus-far in qualification, and has retained positive results throughout qualification, despite losing players such as Andre Gomes, Ivan Cavaleiro, and William Carvalho to the Senior National Team.

The Portuguese came into this game already qualified for the playoffs, having secured a top spot in the group. The only real reason for this match was to build confidence and gain more time on the field as a team. Also, Portugal was defending their perfect record in qualifying thus far. And early into the game, it appeared that this match would go much like the last time they played Norway. The Portuguese team dominated the opening exchanges, though the match took time to settle. Once both teams found their rhythm, the match was a lively, even affair, with both Portugal and Norway playing impressively. Though both teams appeared adept at possession, it was Portugal who fashioned the better chances on goal. And it was Portugal who opened the scoring. Some lax defensive work from Norway gave over possession in their midfield. Ricardo Esgaio picked up the ball and passed the ball upfield to Goncalo Paciencia. Paciencia then had the clarity of mind to look up and feed the ball to the on-rushing (and un-marked) Carlos Mane. Mane picked up the pass, took a few touches to steady himself, and calmly slotted the ball home. It was a confident goal that perfectly encapsulated Portugal’s play up to that point. The ease at which Portugal scored their goal left the feeling that they would run away with the game, as they have done countless times in this qualification cycle. That didn’t quite prove to be the case, as Norway defended diligently and capably. Just before half-time, however, Goncalo Paciencia pulled up injured after an awkward fall. The striker was substituted off for Ricardo, of Porto. Ricardo was moved to the left wing, and the goalscorer, Carlos Mane, was moved to the central role of striker.

The second half began with little incident, with both teams settling evenly into a flow. After the game settled down, it was Norway that looked the more lively, with the young 15 year-old Martin Odegaard proving difficult to handle for the Portuguese. Norway, realizing that anything less than a win would effectively eliminate the possibility of qualification, were a much different-looking team in the second half, dominating most of the proceedings. Despite this domination, Portugal still continued to have the cutting edge that Norway lacked. And this cutting edge paid off right around the hour mark. Joao Mario fed a ball to Ricardo Pereira, who, surrounded by Norwegian defenders, took a touch and skillfully finished near-post (and with his weaker left foot) past the Norwegian ‘keeper. Overall, a 2-0 scoreline was justified at that point, as Portugal had dominated the majority of the game up until that point. Norway were threatening, and their pressure paid off just minutes after Ricardo’s goal. The Norwegians pulled on back through Bakenga, who is the spearhead of the team’s attack. With the score now at 2-1, the remainder of the game was a tense one, with Norway within one goal of ruining Portugal’s loss-less record. Portuguese wonderkid Marcos Lopes had been brought on before the second-half goals, and his play proved to be a highlight in the time remaining in the match. Lopes hit the post with one play and one surging run and subsequent shot forced an excellent save out of the Norwegian goalkeeper. With Portugal looking comfortable and able to defend their lead, debutant Helder Costa, of Benfica’s B team, came on for Carlos Mane. Though the scoreline was close going into the final minutes of the match, little of note occurred, and Portugal walked away with a well-fought 2-1 victory.

The team will now face Azerbaijan in their final 2015 UEFA U-21 Euro qualification match, to be played on September 9th. For that match, Ruben Pinto (Benfica B), Andre Silva (Porto B), and Tiago Silva (Belenenses) have been called.

Bruno Varela, Ricardo Esgaio, Paulo Oliveira, Miguel Rodrigues, Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva, Sergio Oliveira, Rafa(Marcos Lopes), Carlos Mane(Helder Costa), Goncalo Paciencia(Ricardo)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Opinion: 10 Players Who Could Break Out This Season


Many are looking for Marcos Lopes to have a big season at Lille, where he is on loan from Manchester City.

Many are looking for Marcos Lopes to have a big season at Lille, where he is on loan from Manchester City.

10 Portuguese Players Who Could Break Out This Season

Portugal is once again producing quality young footballers at a scale not seen since the ‘Golden Generation’  that emerged in the late 1990s.

But at no time has there been more Portuguese youngsters playing abroad in Europe’s top leagues. Only three of the ten players on this list will be playing in Portugal this season.

Please note, this list includes only players that have yet to establish themselves as national team players but who we believe can conceivably do so during Euro 2016 qualifying. Both Bruma and André Gomes have received call-ups but have yet to establish themselves as regular players.

Here now is a list of 10 Portuguese young stars to watch this season.

Ruben Vezo , Central Defender, Valencia FC

Last season was probably the best debut season Ruben Vezo could have asked for. He was definitively promoted to Vitória de Setúbal’s first team after two successful seasons with the club’s under-19 side. And it only took him half a season to catch the eye of La Liga giants Valencia.  After making 12 appearances for Vitória de Setúbal , the central defender was off to Spain. Used primarily as a backup at Valencia for the rest of the season, Vezo still managed to appear eight times, scoring once.

This season, under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo,  Vezo should play a more prominent role, especially considering Ricardo Costa and Jeremy Mathieu have left the club. Vezo will now compete with Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi for playing time, two well-established internationals. This is no easy task, but Vezo has the tools to develop into a solid defender. And at only 20-years-old, he has plenty of time to reach that potential.

Raphaël Guerreiro , Left-Back, FC Lorient

Having been born and raised in France, it could be said that Raphaël Guerreiro is a bit different from other players on this list. Born to a French mother and a Portuguese father, Guerreiro’s allegiances thus far lie with Portugal, despite never having played in the Portuguese league. He is already an established first-team player at French side Lorient. Despite having played only one season in top-flight, Guerreiro is already viewed as one of the most promising left-backs in Ligue 1.

It appears that little will change this season, with many touting him for another good campaign. With another successful season under his belt, larger clubs will surely come knocking for Guerriero’s services.  He has reportedly drawn interest from Premier League clubs West Ham and Liverpool . If he can manage to stay healthy, Raphael Guerreiro could be the subject of a bidding war next summer.

André Gomes, Midfielder, Valencia CF

The 21-year-old midfielder began making a name for himself in Benfica’s reserve squad with some dominant performances at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. He would make his senior debut with the club that season in a Portuguese Cup match against  Freamunde, scoring a goal in a 4-0  victory. His performances would earn him some playing time in the Champions League as well.

Gomes has exceptional technical ability and is versatile as well. He played in defensive midfield last season with Benfica, but his attributes are better suited for an attacking role. After being heavily linked with a move to the Premier League in January 2014, his rights were sold to an investment fund for €15 million. Gomes will be part of a resurgent Valencia side this season.

João Teixeira , Midfielder, Benfica

Few would have expected João Teixeira to have been as involved in Benfica’s pre-season as he has been, playing mainly as an anchor man in the midfield. Teixeira made 28 appearances for Benfica’s B team last season, but only 16 of those were starts. Still only 20-years-old, Teixeira has been a welcome surprise in Benfica’s otherwise underwhelming pre-season.

With the team’s first-choice holding midfielder, Ljubomir Fejsa out injured for the foreseeable future, Teixeira is now creating competition for Ruben Amorim.  Benfica manager Jorge Jesus has a history of nurturing young talent, as he did with Andre Gomes. And should Teixeira be given a first-team role this season, look for big things.

João Mário, Midfielder, Sporting Lisbon

João Mário has long been viewed as a top Portuguese prospect. The midfielder has been at Sporting since he was 11-years-old, but has only managed one first team appearance so far. After spending the entire 2012-2013 season playing for Sporting’s B side, João Mário was loaned out to fellow Primeira Liga outfit Vitória de Setúbal for the second half of last season. He immediately earned a regular place on the team and managed to make 15 league appearances.

His performances were enough to earn him the ‘Young Player of the Month’ award for January and February, ahead of the likes of William Carvalho, Ricardo Horta, and Bebe.  João Mário was recalled to the Sporting senior squad this summer and he appears to be in contention for a starting position. His work this pre-season has not gone unnoticed.  Former Sporting midfielder Luis Vidigal delivered a glowing recommendation for the player in a recent interview. ‘ It is only a matter of time before Marco Silva realizes the value of João Mário,’ Vidigal said.

Bruno Fernandes, Attacking Midfielder, Udinese Calcio

Unlike most players on this list, Bruno Fernandes never played for one of the ‘Big Three’ of Portuguese football. In fact, the Udinese midfielder never even played for a club in Portugal’s top division.  The former Boavista youth player accepted a modest offer from Italian club Novara in 2012. He has adjusted well to the Italian game, helping Novara to promotion the following season and earning a move to Udinese last summer.

Fernandes started last season in Udinese’s reserve squad, but eventually earned his way into the starting line-up.  He impressed with his vision, technical skill and creativity, playing mainly in the ‘Number 10’ position behind the striker. Fernandes would make 24 Serie A appearances, scoring four goals.  And he is finally receiving some recognition in his home country, having been selected for the U-19 and U-20 youth squads.

Tozé, Attacking Midfielder, Estoril-Praia

A supremely-gifted attacking midfielder who will be officially on-loan for the next two seasons at Estoril. The 21-year-old is a graduate of FC Porto’s youth academy and has been a regular player for Portugal at every youth level. He was dominant last season playing for Porto’s reserve squad in the Segunda Liga, scoring 21 goals in 40 appearances.

As well as having an eye for goal, Tozé has a well-rounded game. He is technically skilled and is versatile as well. He could play in the centre of the pitch, as well on the wings. He should receive more playing time with Estoril, who will be playing in the Europa League this season. Current manager José Couceiro, did an excellent job with a young squad at Vitória de Setubal last season.  Tozé appears ready to make the next step.

Marcos Lopes, Attacking Midfielder, Lille OSC

Perhaps the most talked-about teenager in world football.  Marcos Lopes first made a name for himself as a Benfica youth player, before leaving for Manchester City in 2011. He would score in his first ever appearances for The Citizens in a January 2013 FA Cup match against Watford, only minutes after coming on as a substitute. He continued his dominant performances for Manchester City’s youth squad.

Lopes played for Portugal this summer at the U-19 UEFA Championships, helping his country to the final where they eventually lost to Germany. An attacking midfielder, with exceptional technical ability and vision, Lopes feels most comfortable on the left side of the pitch. His style of play has often been compared to Ronaldinho.  The 18-year-old will spend this season on loan at Ligue 1 club Lille.

Ricardo Horta, Winger, Málaga CF

19-year-old Ricardo Horta was one of the top revelations last season in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. The supremely talented winger is a former Benfica youth player, who moved south to Vitória Setúbal in 2011. He started playing regularly for the club last season, eventually helping them finishing a better than expected seventh in the league table. Horta would score seven goals for the club along the way.

It came as no surprise when La Liga club Málaga signed him this summer. Horta has not wasted any time impressing his new fan base. He scored a beautiful long-range goal in the pre-season against Australian club Perth Glory in late July. And he has dazzled fans with his exceptional skill, making him one of the top young players to watch this season in La Liga.

Bruma, Winger, Galatasaray S.K.

Once hailed as ‘Portugal’s next big thing,’ Bruma’s career has stalled due to a serious knee injury sustained last January. The timing for the winger’s injury could not have been worse. He was just beginning to find his feet at Galatasaray with a series of positive performances in both the Turkish league and the Champions League.

Bruma was selected to the national team for the first time in October 2013, just a few months  before his injury. Any hopes he had of representing his country at the World Cup were all but finished.  But Bruma is now healthy and back playing football.  He had a positive pre-season, which is something that his new manager  Cesare Prandelli should take note of. At only 19-years-old, Bruma already has the tools to become an elite player and soon.

This article was a collaboration between Rui Miguel Martins of FutebolFactory.com and Sam Biggers of PortugalFutbol.net.

 

 

 

 

Portugal Edge Mexico in Even Encounter: More Questions than Answers


Andre Almeida - Portugal vs Mexico 2014

Mexico 0-1 Portugal

International Friendly

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)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Portugal Impress at Toulon


Portugal U-20s Third Place Toulon 2014

photo courtesy fpf.pt

Portugal Under-20 Team

Toulon Tournament

Third Place

The future of Portuguese football looks bright. The Portuguese under-20 team defeated England 1-0 yesterday to claim third place in this year’s edition of the Toulon Tournament. The tournament is set up for youth teams to participate, with most teams sending under-21 squads. Portugal typically sends an under-20 side, and has used the tournament as a way to prepare for the U-20 World Cup.

The team has had varying degrees of success in the past, finishing fourth last year and failing to leave the group in 2011 (just before reaching the final of the U-20 World Cup). This year, the team surprised everyone, finishing third. Let’s look at how they made it there.

The team was coached by Ilidio Vale, who has been at the helm since 2010, guiding the team in two U-20 World Cups and two Toulon Tournaments previous to this tournament. The coach chose commanding Sporting Lisbon defender Tobias Figueiredo as the team’s captain. Other notable players included in the squad were Ruben Vezo, who squeezed his way into Valencia’s first team at the end of the season, Joao Cancelo, who made his debut for Benfica’s first team at the end of the season and is a regular for Benfica B, Ricardo Horta, who played a vital role in Vitoria Setubal’s impressive run this season, and Bruno Fernandes, who made 23 first team appearances for Udinese this season. And indeed it was these players who performed well for Portugal at the tournament, each playing a role in the third place finish.

Portugal were grouped with Mexico, Chile, France, and China in Group A. After duly dispatching Mexico with two deflected goals from Joao Teixeira and Helder Costa, the Portuguese continued their march on with another impressive victory, this time over Chile. Goals from Leandro Silva, a beautiful individual effort from Helder Costa, and Bruno Fernandes ensured the team defeated Chile 3-1. Next, the team faced a Chinese side that tied hosts France 1-1. Not thinking twice, Portugal defeated China 4-1, with Ricardo Horta scoring twice and Ruben Semedo and Helder Costa picking up the other goals. To qualify for the final, Portugal needed to defeat France in their final Group A game, and despite their best efforts, Portugal fell 2-1 to France, thus finishing second in the group, qualifying for the third-place match.

England were the other second-placed team in the tournament, meaning that they would be Portugal’s opponents in the third-place match. Portugal and England have a long footballing rivalry, with both the countries’ senior teams meeting in Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. On both of those occasions, Portugal came out on top of the rivalry, and this time out, Portugal managed a win again. Ricardo Horta scored the only goal of the game, which was enough for Portugal to edge out England 1-0 and claim third-place for the 2014 Toulon Tournament.

Portugal Still Can’t Crack Greece


courtesy of Maisfutebol.iol.pt

courtesy of Maisfutebol.iol.pt

Portugal 0-0 Greece

International Friendly

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)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

 

Paulo Bento Names 23 for World Cup Squad


Paulo Bento

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.


 

Final Squad

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)


 

Statistics

(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


 

Analysis

Goalkeepers:

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.

Defenders:

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.

Midfielders:

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.

Forwards:

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?