With the January transfer window just more than half over, the deals are beginning to come faster and stronger. There is a lot of movement, mainly from Portuguese players abroad. Let’s take a look at the latest: Continue reading
Benfica B midfielder Rúben Pinto has joined Primeira Liga side Paços Ferreira on loan until the end of the season to fill the void left by Ruben Ribeiro, who has joined Gil Vicente on loan. Pinto played the first half of this season for Benfica’s B team, which competes in Portugal’s second tier, the Segunda Liga. A captain at Benfica B, Pinto will now get his first taste of top-flight soccer at Paços. Continue reading
Portugal vs Albania
The Portuguese National Team will kick off their UEFA Euro 2016 qualification campaign tomorrow when they host Albania. Portugal is also joined in Group I by Denmark, Armenia, and Serbia. France will also play all of the teams in Group I, but the matches will not count towards the final group standings, as France is automatically qualified as host of Euro 2016. With Serbia, Denmark, and Armenia all wildcards capable of giving Portugal trouble, one feels that the matches against Albania are must-wins for the Portuguese.
Paulo Bento named a decidedly new-look Portuguese team for this match, most likely as a response to team selection criticism after the World Cup. Bento has earned a reputation lately for being set in his ways. Many believe he is too much set in his ways, but the fact that he has stuck with players who are past their prime is one that cannot be overlooked. Players such as Raul Meireles, Helder Postiga, and Miguel Veloso have all seen better days, but are still automatic starters under Bento. Players such as William Carvalho, Jose Fonte, and Adrien Silva have been given few opportunities, despite stellar performances. In fact, with the example of Fonte and Adrien, Bento has not even selected these players, despite their solid performances in the Premier League and the Portuguese Liga, respectively.
When it was announced that Paulo Bento would stay on as coach until at least Euro 2016, many fans feared more of the same favoritism for two more years. This favoritism, many fear, could cost the team qualification for Euro 2016, which could be the first time Portugal has not qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. But, with the team that Bento selected for tomorrow’s match against Albania, many of the hardcore opponents will be appeased. In the team that Bento named, no less than seven players have the opportunity to make their debuts. These players are Pedro Tiba (Braga), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Ricardo Horta (Malaga), Bruma (Galatasaray), Ruben Vezo (Valencia), and Adrien Silva (Sporting). All seven are enjoying positive starts to their respective seasons, and it is encouraging that Bento is giving opportunities to young, capable players. And there are some statistics that show Bento’s change in heart:
Average age of 2014 World Cup squad: 27.9 years old
Average age of squad named for Albania game: 25.6 years old
Average number of appearances for 2014 World Cup squad: 34.5 caps
Average number of appearances for squad named for Albania Game: 23.4 caps
As the numbers show, the team that Bento named for tomorrow’s match is both drastically younger and more inexperienced. This decision to boot experience and age in favor of younger, more inexperienced players could prove to be a positive decision. The Portuguese are coming off of a tournament that they were expected to perform much better than they did. With their star man Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly at his height as a footballer at the age of 29, the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be Ronaldo’s. Portugal had an experienced team, which was led by arguably the finest player in the world at the time of the tournament, and the team was expected to beat out the United States and Ghana easily to earn a second-place spot behind Germany (at least) in Group G. The rest is history, and the decision by Bento now to bring in new faces suggests that he is preparing the team to move on and look ahead to future challenges (such as Euro 2016).
Portugal last met Albania in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. At that time, the team was led by Carlos Queiroz, who if nothing else, instilled a defensive solidarity in the team. In the 10 matches during qualification, the team only conceded five goals in total. When the team met Albania in those qualifying matches, both teams’ tactics cancelled each other’s out. Both were defensive-leaning teams, and though Portugal possessed much greater talent, the outcomes were stale matches. The two times the teams played, the outcomes were a 0-0 draw and a last-minute 2-1 victory for Portugal.
This time around, Portugal plays a much more open, attacking style of play, one that can be used towards a much more positive result against Albania. Though the team will be lacking their start man, Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no shortage of talent and dynamism in the team. As this is a qualification match, Paulo Bento will likely keep his experimenting to a minimum.
Rui Patricio is a no-brainer to start in goal as a result of solid performances both for Sporting at the Seleccao recently. In front of Patricio will likely be a familiar back-line, something that Bento may be reluctant to change. Fabio Coentrao merits inclusion at left-back, while Joao Pereira could very well start on the right. There is a possibility that Joao Pereira could be benched in favor of Andre Almeida. Pereira’s future at Valencia is currently up in the air, and Bento has given hints that his starting spot is not set in stone. Pepe will likely start, seeing as he has been Real Madrid and Portugal’s starter for some time. The other center-back spot will likely come down between Ricardo Costa and Luis Neto. Though Ricardo Costa is 33 and not playing in a major league, Bento will likely choose him to start.
In midfield, Bento will likely have learned his lesson with William Carvalho. Carvalho will most likely start ahead of Miguel Veloso. Ahead of Carvalho will likely be Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho. Meireles, who is one of the players whose lackluster performances lately have been noticed, may be benched in favor of Adrien Silva, whose performances for Sporting have been wonderful. On the wings, Nani will likely resume his starting position, after playing regularly for Sporting. Filling the hole left by Ronaldo will likely be Vieirinha, who is impressing at Wolfsburg. Up top should be Eder, who is the team’s most viable option as striker. Bento has also hinted that Ivan Cavaleiro could be used as striker for the team, but it remains clear who will start.
Here’s the full lineup, as predicted:
If the team can learn from its previous mistakes, Portugal should have no problem with this game. The fact that Bento is giving opportunities to younger players, the morale and drive of the team should be very high. A positive performance in this game could very well put their underwhelming performances at the World Cup behind them. Put simply, a win tomorrow can be the first step towards a new chapter in Portuguese football.
PortugalFutbol prediction: Portugal 4-1 Albania
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)
Benfica to Valencia
After a convoluted and confusing transfer saga, Andre Gomes has officially joined Valencia CF from Portuguese giants Benfica. In January, it was announced that Meriton Capital Limited had purchased his rights for a hefty 15 million euros. While it is becoming more common place for third parties to purchase percentages of players in Portugal, until this January, it was very uncommon for a third party to purchase an entire player. With Gomes essentially owned by a corporation, he continued at Benfica for the rest of the season, playing huge roles in Benfica’s quest to both the Primera Liga and to the Europa League final. Speculation around his future began to build when it was discovered that Meriton’s owner, Peter Lim, was on the verge of purchasing Spanish side Valencia CF. It was widely believed that Gomes would move to Valencia, but Lim’s takeover of the club stalled any movement.
Finally, it was announced that Andre Gomes would travel to Valencia today to undergo medical examinations and be presented officially. When looking at Gomes’ statistics, the 15 million euro price-tag seems quite inflated. But upon further examination, 15 million euros looks like a reasonable amount. Though he has only appeared 13 times for Benfica in the past two seasons in the league, he has amassed 41 appearances in all competitions, including runs in both the Champions League and the Europa League. And it was this season in the Europa League where Gomes truly shone, being named to the Europa League team of the tournament. One must keep in mind that Gomes is still only 20 years old.
Andre Gomes will join fellow compatriots Ruben Vezo, Ricardo Costa, Joao Pereira, and Helder Postiga at Valencia, as well as the team’s coach, Nuno, who is also Portuguese. With Valencia recruiting heavily after disappointing last season, Gomes will surely have to fight for his place in the team. But one feels that if he earns a spot in the team, this move will do wonders for his development.
Portugal Under-20 Team
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.
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?
Portugal 1-1 Israel
2014 World Cup Qualification
It was not a game to remember last Friday for the Portuguese National Team, as they could only muster a 1-1 draw at home against Israel. A first-half header from Ricardo Costa gave Portugal the lead. Though the majority of the match flow was in favor of Portugal, an unfortunate error by Rui Patricio allowed the visitors to equalize late in the second half. This was an unfortunate draw for the team; one that was not fully justified.
With Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves out injured, and Fabio Coentrao and Helder Postiga suspended, the Portuguese line-up was an unusual one. Patricio started in goal, while Antunes subbed in for the suspended Coentrao on the left of defense. On the right side of the defense was Andre Almeida, who surprisingly earned a start ahead of Cedric Soares, who had been tipped to start all during the week prior. In the center of defense was Ricardo Costa and Pepe. The Portuguese midfield was left largely unchanged, with Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho getting the start, while Ruben Micael took the place of the injured Meireles. The wings were also unchanged, with Ronaldo on the left and Nani on the right. Hugo Almeida started up top in place of the suspended Helder Postiga.
The game started well, with the Portuguese finding their flow very quickly. It took less than half an hour for the hosts to make the breakthrough. A searching ball from Antunes found Pepe at the back-post. The center defender side-footed the ball across the face of the goal, directly into the path of Ricardo Costa, whose head met the ball. The scores were open at 1-0, and Portugal did not look like going back. Interestingly enough, it was Ricardo Costa’s first goal for the Seleccao, even at the age of 32. The second half was more of the same: Portugal dominating, and Israel snatching at infrequent chances. Portugal continued to search for another goal to double their lead, and came close numerous times, but lady luck was not smiling kindly upon Portugal. Late in the match, just minutes before the end, an botched Rui Patricio clearance fell to the feet of an Israeli player, whose finish could not have been easier. With the scores now tied at 1-1, Portugal attacked menacingly, but could not muster up another goal. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, a disappointment for Portugal. One positive can be taken from this match, however. Porto midfielder Josue made his debut for the Seleccao and looked very lively after he was subbed on in the second-half. Andre Almeida also debuted for the team, and also looked very solid in defense.
Rui Patricio, Ricardo Costa, Pepe, Antunes, Andre Almeida, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso(Eder), Ruben Micael(Josue), Ronaldo, Nani, Hugo Almeida(Nelson Oliveira)
Manuel Da Costa – Lokomotiv to Nacional (loan)
Portuguese central defender Manuel Da Costa has joined Liga Zon Sagres side Nacional on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow. Costa did not play in to Slaven Bilic’s first-team plans at the Russian club, and is now searching for regular playing time in Portugal, which he will undoubtedly get. Da Costa moved from West Ham in June 2011, and enjoyed a relatively successful first season at the club, most notably scoring two against Zenit.
Portugal 2-0 Panama
Two finely-taken goals, one from Cristiano Ronaldo, and the other from Nelson Oliveira, sealed a 2-0 win over an inferior Panama side. Portugal had chances aplenty, but had a hard time finishing off those chances, with Hugo Almeida particularly suspect. Nevertheless, the Seleccao’s play oozed class, and the performance was encouraging.
The game started off brightly for the hosts. Joao Moutinho was the first to have a shot at goal. The live-wire midfielder cut the ball onto his left foot, but couldn’t keep his shot low enough. The deadlock was broken twenty minutes later. Young striker Nelson Oliveira received a pass from Miguel Lopes, side-stepped multiple Panama defenders, and unleashed a left-footed shot into the upper left-hand corner of the goal. With the score 1-0 in Portugal’s favor, the team continued to press. Oliveira and Ronaldo both tested the Panama goalkeeper with deft efforts, and were unlucky to have not scored. The opposition goalkeeper was proving to be the hero for his team, and after he parried an excellent Nani shot, he was looking better by the minute. The first half ended that way, at 1-0.
The second half started perfectly for the Seleccao. Raul Meireles lobbed a ball for Ronaldo, who chested down the pass, and unleashed a fierce volley into the bottom right-hand corner. It was what we have come to expect from the second-best player in the world, but it was nevertheless impressive. With the score at 2-0, Portugal still continued to press the opposition. Rolando had a brilliant header saved by Panama’s goalkeeper. Then came the Hugo Almeida farce show. Minutes after Rolando’s header, a header from Ricardo Costa was saved by the opposition goalkeeper, who parried it directly into Hugo Almeida’s path. Somehow, Almeida whiffed the ball, and it rolled slowly out for a goal kick. It was disappointing from the striker, and he failed to put away a further chance later in the game, sending his header well wide of the Panama goal. That was how the game ended: 2-0.
Eduardo(Beto), Miguel Lopes, Rolando, Ricardo Costa, Fabio Coentrao, Hugo Viana(Ruben Micael), Joao Moutinho(Carlos Martins), Raul Meireles(Miguel Veloso), Nani, Ronaldo(Varela), Nelson Oliveira(Hugo Almeida)