Having narrowly edged Armenia on Friday, the Portuguese national team faces much stiffer competition at Manchester United’s home ground Old Trafford as the Seleccao are pitted up against World Cup finalists Argentina in an international friendly. Cristiano Ronaldo once again saved Portuguese blushes against Armenia and the spotlight will be on the Portuguese superstar as he competes with rival Lionel Messi to steal the show at a place he once called his professional home. Continue reading
The Portuguese Football Federation announced this week the appointment of Fernando Santos as the Selecao’s head coach. Santos has filled the position left vacated by the departure of Paulo Bento, the team’s previous coach. Bento was known for his stubbornness, which resulted in stagnant team selections, as well as some players being exiled from the team. With Santos now in charge, there is a natural hope for a renewed team; one that is open to any player deemed worthy to represent it. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from Fernando Santos, in terms of player selection and tactics. Continue reading
The Portuguese Football Federation announced today that Fernando Santos is the new coach of the Portuguese National Football Team, following the dismissal of Paulo Bento earlier this month. Santos had been a favorite for the job, but there was much speculation surrounding the open position, with the likes of Roberto Mancini and Vitor Pereira also touted for the job. Santos will take over the team immediately, but there are some uncertainties, as he is currently in the midst of an eight-match ban as a result of his antics while coaching the Greek National Team at this summer’s World Cup. Continue reading
Following Portugal’s abysmal World Cup campaign, many are calling for an entire squad overhaul. And whether or not that will happen is anybody’s guess. Paulo Bento has earned quite a reputation for favoritism, consistently choosing the same players time and time again. While these players have performed well for Portugal in the past, many of their performances recently have been far from their best. For instance, for this World Cup, Bento called up players such as Helder Postiga, Nani, and Eder, none of whom played regularly at all last season. Some would argue that players such as Postiga, Nani, and Eder don’t deserve to play for the national team due to a lack of playing time at their clubs, and that players who play club football more regularly should earn the call instead. Essentially, Paulo Bento is rewarding mediocrity. The competition for places on the team has dwindled to nothing. Good performances won’t earn a call-up.
Many Portuguese fans have felt this way recently, and many feel the World Cup highlighted the holes in Paulo Bento’s plan. With Paulo Bento to stay in charge until at least Euro 2016, a change in coach does not look likely. The only think fans can hope for is a change in mentality from Bento. At the heart of this change should be a re-evaluation of the squad: determining which players deserve a place in the team, and discarding those who don’t.
So, here are 12 players who deserve a place in Paulo Bento’s squad, in no particular order.
Lima has played in Portugal ever since the 2009-2010 season, when he joined Belenenses from the lower divisions in Brazil. After a successful first season at Belenenses, Braga purchased the striker, who became a cult figure at the club. In his second season at Braga, Lima truly came of age. In 30 appearances, Lima scored 20 times, helping Braga to an impressive 3rd place finish, and also finishing as the joint top goalscorer in Portugal. As a result of his scoring exploits, Benfica came knocking. And in the two seasons he has been at Benfica, Lima has managed 34 goals in 56 appearances. Portugal has a long-standing striker problem ever since the retirement of Pauleta. Hugo Almeida, Helder Postiga, Nelson Oliveira, and more recently Eder have all been given chances, but none have truly won over the position. Though Lima was born in Brazil and has only been in Portugal for five years, naturalization is certainly an option. Lima isn’t getting any younger, however. At 31, Bento may have to act sooner rather than later if he wants Lima in the national team.
In the past two seasons, fans of Sporting Lisbon and the Portuguese national team have witnessed Cedric Soares realize his potential. Always regarded as one of Portuguese football’s brightest prospects, Cedric has made the starting right-back spot at Sporting his own. The defender helped Sporting to an impressive 2nd place finish this season, playing in 28 matches for the club. And still only 22, Cedric has the time to develop further and to become an important member of the Seleccao for years to come.
Arguably Sporting’s finest player last season, his exclusion from the Portuguese team for the World Cup left many with a bad taste in their mouths. In the mold of a stylish no. 10, Adrien Silva is a creative spark behind Sporting, and a huge reason that the team finished as high on the table as they did. His call to the national team last season shows that Paulo Bento is not averse to his inclusion in the team, but a place in the starting eleven may be a bit harder to achieve. Bento is known to favor a three-man midfield of Veloso, Moutinho, and Meireles, which worked wonders at Euro 2012. Since then, that combination has fallen flat many a time. And with Bento not even willing to change his midfield trio with the inclusion of proven talent William Carvalho, a place for Adrien may be a long time off.
Sporting Lisbon employed much the same tactic last season as Portugal does currently. Both teams play a 4-3-3, with virtually the same midfield set-up. William Carvalho provides the defensive anchor, Andre Martins provides some tenacity and creative spark, and Adrien does the dirty work, while also popping in with some creativity. Andre Martins enjoyed a solid season at Sporting, which was his first in the top flight that saw him perform regularly. With two senior team caps under his belt, Martins has already been in and around the team, and at the very least can provide cover for the ageing Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso.
Bento made a bold decision with his team selection this summer. Instead of choosing a natural left-back as back-up for Fabio Coentrao, Bento chose utility man Andre Almeida, who is capable of playing almost anywhere in midfield and defense. Almeida is a right-footed player, who Bento employed at left-back. A series of mediocre performances followed from Almeida, who while solid, lacked any attacking acumen going forward. Antunes, on the other hand, is equally adept at attacking and defending, a quality that he has showed at Malaga, where he has won a starting spot at left-back. And he is no stranger to the national team. Having appeared for the team after an impressive U-20 World Cup showing in 2007, Antunes fell off the radar after an ill-fated move abroad to Roma. But after finding his way back to Portugal, Antunes earned a move to Malaga, where he has flourished, appearing 36 times last season alone. His performances have not gone unnoticed, with West Ham reportedly naming Antunes as one of their top targets.
Jose Fonte, despite being somewhat of an unknown in English football, has become one of the driving forces behind Southampton’s baffling rise to the English Premier League. Fonte became a regular for Championship side Crystal Palace after leaving Sporting before the 2007-2008 season. Establishing himself as a started, Fonte spent three seasons at the club before agreeing to a move to Southampton, who were at that time playing in the third tier of English football: League 1. Many were taken aback by this decision, but few will fault the defender now. Two seasons in League 1 saw them promoted to the Championship, and after only one season, the team earned passage into the English Premier League. During the entirety of this revival, Fonte maintained a starting position, and has kept it during his two seasons in the Premier League. And he hasn’t only kept it. He’s become one of the club’s finest performers. Last season, whoscored.com rated Fonte at 7.21, making him the second best performer for Southampton. Though he is 30 years old and not getting any younger, stats like that are hard to ignore. Once again, he at least deserves to earn a call to the team.
Portugal has been gifted with talented goalkeepers in recent years. Players such as Vitor Baia, Ricardo, and Eduardo have graced the spot in between the sticks in recent years, and more recently, Rui Patricio has rightfully made the starting spot his own. And even after Patricio’s injury at this World Cup, backup goalkeeper Beto slid in an performed with confidence and skill. Of the three goalkeepers that Bento called on this summer, only two are still playing regularly in a top league. Beto was instrumental in Sevilla’s Europa League win last season, and Rui Patricio is one of Sporting Lisbon’s shining jewels. Eduardo, on the other hand, played well for Braga last season on loan from Genoa, but has transferred to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. The point of this is not to say that Dinamo is not a good team, but rather to point out that the Croatian league is not anywhere close to being a top league. It’s not even comparable to, let’s say, the French league. And now we come to Anthony Lopes, who was Lyon’s starting goalkeeper last season, appearing 32 times in the league. And this season, it looks as if not much will change. With Lopes playing regularly against players like Ibrahimovic and Falcao, why not call him up to the team, even if it is to serve as a back-up.
Guerreiro deserves to be considered for the National Team. I highlighted the left-back in an article last week, and the reason is clear. Guerreiro is playing regularly for a team in the top division in France, and is only 20 years old. There is a chance that he could switch alliances and choose to play for France, a move that would be devastating for Portugal. He won’t take the starting spot from Coentrao, and no one is expecting him to. But he certainly deserves a chance in the team, even if it is initially just to tie him down to Portugal.
You may be wondering why Quaresma was included on this list; a player who has dozens of caps for Portugal. The reason is simple. Paulo Bento chose to leave Quaresma at home this World Cup, instead choosing Vieirinha, who had just come off a season ravaged by injuries. While Quaresma’s seasons recently have been lackluster, once the winger arrived at Porto in January, he looked a different player. And 10 goals in 24 appearances later, many were left scratching their heads when Bento left Quaresma off the team. Quaresma could have surely brought something to the team, at the very least as backup. While he is 30 and will soon be 31, Quaresma still possesses a skillset that can be of use to the team.
Few were expecting for Diogo Figueiras to have the impact last season that he did. After an impressive 2012-2013 debut season for Pacos Ferreira, Figueiras earned a move to Spanish club Sevilla. Still a virtual unknown, the right-back managed an impressive 22 first team appearances for the Spanish club, helping the team as they won the Europa League. With first-choice right back Coke a possibility to leave, Figueiras will look to build on what was a very solid first season at Sevilla. And one way he can build on his season is to be rewarded with a call to the National Team, something that he undoubtedly deserves. He is certainly capable of providing competition for Joao Pereira.
Another member of Sevilla’s impressive Europa League winning squad last season, Daniel Carrico is enjoying something of a revival after a horrendous season in England. Once viewed as Sporting Lisbon’s golden boy, Carrico was given captaincy at the Portuguese club at just 22. But the center defender’s form dropped as Sporting muddled through some of their worst seasons in history. As a result, Carrico was sold for close to nothing to newly promoted Premier League side Reading. At Reading, Carrico only managed a handful of appearances, and a loan deal to Sevilla for the 2013-2014 season was arranged. In his season at Sevilla, Carrico became one of the club’s most dependable performers, with his performances earning him a permanent move this summer. Long thought of as one of Portugal’s most up and coming defenders, few will argue that Carrico reached the potential that many saw in him during his Sporting years. But few will argue that Carrico’s season last time out was one of his finest. And not only that, but he is versatile. Capable of playing both at center back and defensive midfield, versatility is something that Paulo Bento looks for. So Paulo…nudge nudge.
Often labeled as Manchester United’s biggest flop, many English football fans assumed that Bebe’s career was a joke and that he had very little to offer the world of football. Oh how they are wrong. Rightly derided in England, Bebe’s time at Manchester United, though not abysmal, was certainly not worthy of the price that the club paid for his services. But a good decision on their part was to loan him back to Portugal. A semi-successful loan to Rio Ave during the 2012-2013 season was followed by a hugely successful loan to Pacos Ferreira last season. At Pacos, Bebe finished the season as the top scoring Portuguese player in the league, which is even more impressive when one considers that the winger was playing for a team who had to avoid relegation via a playoff. Following arguably his most impressive season yet, Benfica are extremely close to signing him, and you can expect that he won’t be loaned out.
After a stellar season at Atletico Madrid which saw the team win the league and reach the final of the Champions League, Tiago Mendes is set to rejoin Jose Mourinho at English giants Chelsea. This will be Tiago’s second stint at the English club, after representing the team during the 2004-2005 season, also during Mourinho’s first season at Chelsea. An integral part of Atletico Madrid’s much-hailed midfield last season, Tiago found himself in arguably the finest form of his career at the advanced age of 33. He was in such fine form that he publicly regretted his decision to retire from the Portuguese National Team following the 2010 World Cup. At the time, it looked as if the midfielder’s career was on the steep decline, despite positive performances for Portugal at the aforesaid World Cup.
At the time of his international retirement, Tiago was languishing at Juventus, having only managed 7 league appearances during the first half of the previous season. A loan to Atletico Madrid was arranged in January of 2010 (still prior to the World Cup), and the midfielder showed his worth, making 18 league appearances in the latter half of the season. After a successful half season and a positive World Cup campaign, another loan was arranged for the 2010-2011 season. But this time it was a season-long loan. Tiago continued to perform well for the Spanish club, managing 31 league appearances. After the loan expired, Tiago was purchased outright by Atletico on a two year contract. Since that time, Tiago has established himself as a tactically-sound asset to the team. He’s not the player he once was, but his knowledge of the game has grown immensely-an attribute he showed to perfection this season.
Many are speculating that Tiago’s move to Chelsea is one that will see him become part of the team’s backroom staff after his playing days are over. He was signed on a two-year deal, which will see him under contract until he is 35 years old, a prime age for retirement. There have been no secrets about his relationship with Jose Mourinho, and many are speculating that Tiago may have been signed to become Mourinho’s assistant a few years down the road. Will this happen? Only time will tell. For the mean time, Chelsea have signed an experienced player who was at the heart of one of the finest underdog stories of last season.
Portugal 2-1 Ghana
World Cup Group G
Despite performing much better and defeating Ghana 2-1 in their final World Cup group stage match, Portugal has crashed out of the tournament, edged out on goal difference by the United States of America. A very tough task to overcome a 4-0 defeat in their opening match, the team never managed to fully recover, drawing the United States in their next match. The team can now look towards qualifying for Euro 2016, which should be much easier than in previous tournaments, due to the increase in number of teams at the European Championships.
Paulo Bento had to choose a team which was still ravaged by injuries. Beto again resumed his spot in goal in place of the injured Rui Patricio. In front of Beto were the usual center back pairing of Bruno Alves and Pepe, the latter of which returned to the team after his one-match suspension for his antics in the Germany match. Joao Pereira set up shop on the right of defense, and in the absence of Fabio Coentrao, Miguel Veloso moved to left-defender, a clear sign of attacking intent from Bento. In the midfield, Bento dropped Raul Meireles to the bench, leaving a middle three of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Amorim, and William Carvalho. On the wings were the usual suspects of Ronaldo and Nani, with Eder starting up top.
In stark contrast to the team’s first two matches, Portugal performed quite brightly. One could say that they finally played to their potential. The game started brightly for the Portuguese, with many of the chances in the first part of the half going in Portugal’s favor. Ronaldo was closer to his scintillating form which played a big part in Portugal qualifying. And it was the Real Madrid man who was behind many of Portugal’s chances in the first half. Finally, Portugal was rewarded for their fine play just before the half. Some sublime skill from Joao Moutinho set up a cross for Miguel Veloso. His cross was whipped into the box, only for Ghana defender John Boye’s botched clearance to loop into the back of the net. That own goal gave Portugal a well-deserved 1-0 lead coming into the half.
Knowing that a loss would eliminate them from the competition, Ghana pressed more in the second half. Despite chances coming to both sides, it was Ghana who struck next. A beautiful cross from Andre Ayew fell perfectly to the head of Asamoah Gyan. His header slipped past an out-stretched Beto and into the back of the next to level the scores at 1-1. From that point onward, Portugal pushed forward in search for a winner. Despite being thwarted a number of times by Ghana’s goalkeeper, Portugal finally found their winner through their captain and talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani fired a cross into Ghana’s box. A miscued header sent the ball straight up into the air. When the ball fell down, Ghana’s goalkeeper, with his first mistake of the night, punched the ball directly to Ronaldo, who fired the ball home. After that goal, Portugal continued pressing, and could have extended the scoreline further, if it wasn’t for heroics from the Ghana goalkeeper and profligacy in front of goal. That was how the game ended: a 2-1 Portuguese victory, but it was not enough for the team to progress in the tournament.
Beto(Eduardo), Joao Pereira(Varela), Miguel Veloso, Bruno Alves, Pepe, William Carvalho, Ruben Amorim, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Ronaldo, Eder(Vieirinha)
Portugal 2-2 United States
A last-minute goal from Silvestre Varela gave Portugal a 2-2 draw against a bright United States side in both teams’ second World Cup match. An early goal from Nani set Portugal on their way, but two second half goals from Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey gave the United States a deserved lead. But in the last play of the game, a Ronaldo cross found the head of Varela, who headed home with aplomb. The manner in which Varela scored is reminiscent of his last gasp goal at Euro 2012, when he came off the bench to score the goal that gave Portugal the win over Denmark. Though they managed a draw, the United States outplayed the Portuguese, and one could argue deserved to win the match.
Portugal are in Group G with Germany, United States, and Ghana; a group aptly labeled the “group of death.” In Portugal’s first game, the team fell hard 4-0 to Germany. From events stemming from the first match, Portugal were without starters Pepe, Rui Patricio, Fabio Coentrao, and Hugo Almeida, who were all unavailable for the match due to suspension or injury. This meant that Portugal’s starting lineup was something of a patchwork one, with Andre Almeida and Ricardo Costa replacing Fabio Coentrao and Pepe in defense respectively. Rui Patricio was replaced by Beto, while Helder Postiga resumed his starting role up top in place of the injured Hugo Almeida. Though their fitness was in question before the start of the match, Ronaldo and Bruno Alves both started for Portugal.
The game started very brightly for Portugal, with the team taking the lead after just five minutes. Miguel Veloso fired in an early cross, which was unsuccessfully cleared by Geoff Cameron for the United States. His botched clearance fell to the feet of Nani, who fired home for Portugal. It was Nani’s 15th goal for Portugal and his first in a major tournament for Portugal. And it was Nani who was the brightest Portuguese player for the first half of an hour. Portugal dominated possession, with the United States content on chasing the ball and counter-attacking incisively when Portugal turned over the ball. The game ebbed and flowed, with the United States gaining force as the first half was drawing to a close. Portugal was happy to counter, and came very close just before the half, only to be stopped by a pivotal save from USA goalkeeper Tim Howard. Nani picked up the ball on the right hand side and fired in a shot from outside the box. His effort struck the right upright post and fell to the feet of Eder (who had been brought on earlier for the injured Helder Postiga). The Braga man’s shot was expertly saved by the diving American goalkeeper. It was perhaps the save of the tournament and was definitely a huge let-off for Portugal. The team was up 1-0 at the half, but many questions surrounded their play, as the United States had begun to find their rhythm.
The United States, perhaps aware of what needed to be done, came out much more aggressively in the second half. And if it weren’t for a last-ditch tackle from Ricardo Costa ten minutes after the restart, the United States would have tied the game. The Valencia man was in the right place at the right time to expertly block Michael Bradley’s shot. Though Portugal got off that time, the message was clear. The United States were pressing more and more, and as a result looked the better team. Portugal looked poor and were struggling to cope with the increased pressure. And just ten minutes later, both teams got what they deserved. A rocket of a shot from United States midfielder Jermaine Jones thundered into the back of the net to level the scores for the two teams. The goal was a deserved one from the United States, whose play had warranted a goal. Portugal attempted a response, but the team was sluggish going forward and sloppy in defense. And then karma hit again. Around the 80th minute mark, the United States struck once more. The Americans ripped the Portuguese defense apart, and were rewarded by a Clint Dempsey goal. With the score at 2-1 advantage United States and Portugal looking unable to fire a response, many thought the game was over. Americans were shown dancing and celebrating their team’s (assumed) victory over one of Europe’s finest teams. But few remembered that this is the World Cup and anything is possible. And few could have predicted what happened next.
Around the hour mark, Silvestre Varela was substituted in for Raul Meireles. Before that point, Portugal had been playing in their favored 4-3-3 formation. Ronaldo, as usual, was given the freedom to roam from his starting position on the left wing. Though he could roam, he was largely stuck to the position of left-winger, and consistently popped up in attack on the left side of the field. Once Varela was substituted in, the team essentially moved to a 4-4-1-1, with Ronaldo given the freedom to roam as a sort-of attacking midfielder. This move was designed to give Ronaldo more freedom and to hopefully give Portugal the push to score a goal and spare the game. And it worked. Literally in the last seconds of the match, as the United States fans were celebrating their assumed victory, Ronaldo picked up the ball on the right wing. After beating his man, he fired in a perfect cross, which met the head of Varela and thundered into the back of the net to tie up the game at 2-2. USA fans were silent, and this time it was Portugal fans’ turn to celebrate. Though their team had been largely disappointing for the entire match, the Selccao managed to salvage a draw and keep their hopes of qualification to the next round alive.
Beto, Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Costa, Andre Almeida(William Carvalho), Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Ronaldo, Nani, Helder Postiga(Eder)
So what does this mean for Portugal’s chances? First, let’s take a look at the Group G table as it currently stands:
Portugal has a very poor goal difference because of their heavy 4-0 drubbing from Germany in their first match. To have any hope of qualification to the next round, Portugal first has to defeat Ghana and Germany has to defeat the United States. If Germany and the United States draw, they both advance and Portugal is eliminated. Let’s look at some results that would put Portugal through to the next round:
Portugal 2-0 Ghana, United States 0-4 Germany
Portugal 3-0 Ghana, United States 0-3 Germany
Portugal 3-1 Ghana, United States 1-5 Germany.
Portugal 8-0 Ghana, United States 1-0 Germany (very unlikely)
Essentially, Portugal needs a miracle.
Portugal 0-4 Germany
2014 FIFA World Cup
The Portuguese National Team had to suffer through very likely the worst start to a World Cup possible on Monday when they succumbed to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Germans. Portugal have much work to do to salvage anything out of this World Cup, and with a number of players out of contention for the next games, the Seleccao is facing the toughest task in recent memory.
The game started off brightly for both teams, with the contest largely even. This changed on the stroke of 10 minutes. Joao Pereira was wrestling Mario Gotze for the ball in the box, and a foul was called against Joao Pereira. The foul was justified, and Thomas Muller dispatched the spot kick, giving Germany an early 1-0 lead. The goal did not seem to take the wind out of Portugal’s sails, as the team continued to press, with Nani firing a shot narrowly over the German goal. But, alas, Germany proved too much for Portugal going forward. The Germans doubled their lead around the half-hour mark, with Mats Hummels heading in from a corner. And then, just minutes later an act of lunacy. Pepe held the ball in defense with Thomas Muller lurking. The German attempted to nick the ball from the Portuguese defender, only to go to ground from a presumed arm to the face. Apparently angry that Muller went to ground so easily, Pepe confronted the forward, who was sitting on the ground. Though there was slight contact, replays show that Pepe hit his head into Muller’s. It was an easy decision for the referee. Pepe was given a straight red, and Portugal were down to 10 men. And predictably from that point forward, it was one-way traffic in favor of the Germans. And it was Muller who struck again, smartly getting in front of Bruno Alves’ clearance to fire home and further pile on Portugal’s misery.
Bad things that happened in the first half:
- Hugo Almeida off injured
- Pepe red card
- Three goals scored against Portugal
Maybe the second half was better. Wrong.
Paulo Bento took a more conservative approach in the second half. At half-time, the boss took off Miguel Veloso and added Ricardo Costa to fill the void that Pepe left. Though this reduced Portugal’s attack, it greatly repaired Portugal’s defense, which had been exploited heavily by Germany in the first half to great effect. One can only expect but so much from a team playing with 10 men against one of the favorites to win the tournament. The Portuguese did try to get forward, and it was Nani who was at the heart of many of Portugal’s plays in the second half, but the team could not manage to score. It was Germany who managed to score once more. A mistake from Andre Almeida, who had been substituted in for the injured Fabio Coentrao and a fumble from Rui Patricio gifted Muller another goal. The game ended an embarrassing 4-0 against Portugal, and as has been the case lately, there are more questions than answers.
Bad things that happened in the second half:
- Fabio Coentrao injured
- 1 goal scored against Portugal
Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Andre Almeida), Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso(Ricardo Costa), Joao Moutinho, Nani, Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida(Eder)
So, where does this leave Portugal? Essentially, Portugal MUST win their remaining two group stage matches against the USA and Ghana. The USA beat Ghana, so they will likely be eager to beat Portugal to automatically qualify before having to face Germany. Ghana will be licking their wounds, and will likely be gunning for a win against the Portuguese after their loss against the USA.
For the next game against the USA on Sunday, Portugal will be without Pepe (suspended), Fabio Coentrao, Hugo Almeida, and Rui Patricio (injured). The team that will likely face the USA should look something like this:
Eduardo, Joao Pereira, Ricardo Costa, Bruno Alves, Andre Almeida, William Carvalho/Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Ronaldo, Helder Postiga
Portugal 5-1 Ireland
Portugal finished their pre-World Cup tour of America in possibly the best fashion with a 5-1 demolition of Ireland at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Goals from Hugo Almeida (2), Fabio Coentrao, Vieirinha, and an Irish own goal contributed to the win. The wide winning margin was exactly what many speculated the team needed, after tepid performances against Greece and Mexico. The game saw Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, and Pepe all return to fitness after being out injured recently. And indeed our captain Ronaldo looked healthy and dangerous; exactly the two qualities the team needs from him most next week when Portugal kick off their World Cup campaign against Germany.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento returned to his favored 4-3-3 formation. Returning to his no.1 position in goal was Rui Patricio. In front of him were Ruben Amorim (who is adept at playing at right-back) and Fabio Coentrao on the wings. In the middle of defense was Neto and Ricardo Costa, who were presumably fill-ins for Bruno Alves and Pepe. In midfield, Bento chose William Carvalho, Raul Meireles, and Joao Moutinho, who will most likely be the starting trio that represent Portugal’s midfield next week. On the wings were a fit-again Ronaldo and Varela. They were joined up top by Hugo Almeida. Regulars Bruno Alves and Joao Pereira were given a rest for the match, but all signs are pointing toward them starting in the Seleccao’s first match against Germany next week.
The game started off brightly for the Portuguese. Within the first few minutes, the team was already 1-0 up. Great defensive work from Ruben Amorim released Varela on the right wing. The winger sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by the head of Hugo Almeida. After getting somewhat of a cushion in the form of that goal, Portugal seemed largely content with Ireland getting a hold on proceedings. But as is so common, Portugal attack against the run of play. Though Ireland was threatening, Portugal had a very good chance to double their advantage on the 13 minute mark. Some good work from Ronaldo opened room for a shot, which was parried by the Ireland goalkeeper. The rebound fell to Varela, who had the presence of mind to pick out the onrushing Raul Meireles. The midfielder’s fierce shot was well-saved, and the ball went behind for a corner kick. From the resulting kick, Hugo Almeida came within inches of doubling Portugal’s lead. From that point forward, it was largely one-way traffic. Ronaldo hit the post with another of his wonderful trademark free kicks minutes later, and it was the Real Madrid man who played a bit part in the second goal. A run forward from Coentrao was picked out by a wonderful back-heel pass from Ronaldo. The left-back crossed, and the ball took a fortunate deflection off Ireland defender Richard Keogh and looped into the back of the net. Portugal continued to press, and were rewarded once again fifteen minutes later. Varela sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by the head of Ronaldo. The star man’s header was pushed away by the Irish goalkeeper, but Hugo Almeida was there to apply the finishing touch. It was the team’s third, and Almeida’s second of the night. That proved to be the last clear-cut chance of the half. Both teams went into the locker room with Portugal leading convincingly 3-0.
As could be expected, Ireland caused Portugal headaches early in the second half. And the Irish were rewarded for their hard work just 6 minutes after the restart. A well-worked set piece set winger James McClean free on the right. A simple cut-in allowed him the space to fire home past Rui Patricio. Later in the second-half, as is typical in international friendlies, there was a mass substitution. Among the players to leave the field was Ronaldo, who had performed admirably though not fully fit. Nani replaced the Real Madrid forward and was at the heart of the rest of Portugal’s forays forward. Ireland continued to threaten, and seemed determined to improve upon the momentum from their goal. Portugal managed to hold them off, and counter struck in the 77th minute. A superb cross-field pass from Joao Moutinho was taken perfectly in stride by Nani, who was motoring down the left wing. The winger took his time, and picked out the run of Vieirinha perfectly. The Wolfsburg man’s header was well saved, but he made no mistake with the rebound, shooting past the Ireland goalkeeper to record his first goal for Portugal, and stretch the scoreline to an impressive 4-1. And it was Nani at the heart of Portugal’s final goal just a few minutes later. The winger picked up the ball on the left wing once again, and instead of pressing forward, stalled a bit, and picked out the on-rushing Fabio Coentrao. The Real Madrid defender poked the ball home impressively with his right toe, and just like that, Portugal were up 5-1. And soon after, Nani was once again at the heart of another Portuguese move, and possibly one of the most exciting of which all night. The winger picked up the ball on his favored left side, and made a mazing run, playing one-two pass after one-two pass with his teammates before laying the ball off to Joao Moutinho. Moutinho dinked through a wonderful split ball to Vieirinha, whose square pass was back-heeled into the net by Nani. Alas, the wonderful move was correctly adjudged to be offside, but the point was clear. Portugal can be a mesmerizingly wonderful team.
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Much of the talk lately surrounding Portugal has been over the fitness of star man Cristiano Ronaldo. The buzz is warranted. Ronaldo won World Player of the Year for 2013, and is fresh off winning the Champions League with Real Madrid. His performances for Portugal under Paulo Bento have been nothing short of spectacular, recently surpassing Pauleta as Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He is undoubtedly an important piece to the puzzle. But he is not the puzzle. Yes, he is the best player in the world. Yes he has the ability to change games; to improve the quality of play; to make a difference. But pundits under-emphasize the importance of the team around him. Portugal, as a collective, is one of the most complete sides in the world currently. The team that Portugal will likely field against Germany is almost identical to the one that was named when we faced Germany at Euro 2012. The team has played together for years now, and is well-versed in the formation and tactics that Paulo Bento uses. But Portugal is not stagnant. The team has a good mix of youth and experience. Players such as Rafa and William Carvalho are wild-cards. Having not been in the international spotlight for their talent can be an asset for Portugal. Other teams won’t exactly know how to handle Rafa at full speed or William Carvalho at full-stretch. I think for people to label Portugal as a one-trick pony, and the trick to be Ronaldo, is a mistake. There is much more to a team than one man. This game highlighted this point well. Ronaldo was involved directly in two of the goals (the second and third), but Varela carved out a chance for the first goal. Nani made the chances for the other two goals. A no-Ronaldo Portugal is still capable of playing beautiful, flowing football. Ronaldo is important, but just as important are the collective around him.
Rui Patricio, Ruben Amorim(Miguel Veloso), Neto(Pepe), Ricardo Costa, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho, Raul Meireles(Andre Almeida), Ronaldo(Nani), Varela(Vieirinha), Hugo Almeida(Helder Postiga)
Mexico 0-1 Portugal
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)