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

 

Braga Snap Up Yet Another Feirense Youngster


 

photo courtesy of cdfeirense.pt

photo courtesy of cdfeirense.pt

Fabio Carvalho

Feirense to Braga

According to reports coming out of Portugal, Sporting Braga have signed Fabio Carvalho from Feirense. Carvalho, who is also known as Fabinho, will officially sign after he finishes his involvement with the Portugal U-20 side at the Toulon Tournament. Fabinho, whose primary position is attacking midfielder, managed 20 first team appearances and four goals this season, which was his debut season.

One can easily draw parallels between Fabinho’s first season and Braga’s signing from Feirense last season, Rafa. In his debut season for Feirense (2012-2013 season), Rafa played an even larger role than Fabinho did this season, appearing 41 times and scoring 10 goals from midfield. That’s not to say that Fabinho is less talented than Rafa. Numbers don’t always tell the truth. Braga will surely be hoping for another Rafa, who after just one season is already an established squad member at Braga, and was recently included in Paulo Bento’s 23 for the World Cup. All by the age of 21.

This could also signal Rafa’s departure from Braga. The midfielder’s impressive performances have caught the attention of clubs such as Southampton and Roma, both of whom were following Rafa very closely at one point or another in the season. One rumor that has persisted, and appears may turn true, is Benfica’s interest in Rafa. According to some sources, a deal is already in place; a deal that will not be announced until after the World Cup. So, Fabinho’s move to Braga can easily be assumed to be to fill the void that Rafa will leave once he departs.

What’s Next for Andre Gomes?


Andre Gomes - Portugal U20Andre Gomes is arguably one of the most exciting Portuguese prospects in the game right now. Though not a regular for Benfica, Gomes is slowly establishing himself as a logical replacement for Nemanja Matic, who moved to Chelsea in January. Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has put a great deal of faith in Gomes, most notably starting him in a number of important matches this season, most recently (and notably) the Europa League final against Sevilla.

Andre Gomes was included in Portugal coach Paulo Bento’s 30-man preliminary World Cup squad when it was announced earlier this month. Many were left scratching their head at the prospect of an un-capped 20 year old making the team ahead of such players as Adrien Silva. But for those who watch Andre Gomes play, the decision was not that surprising. Naturally a holding midfielder, Gomes is capable of supplying his team with creativity, tough tackling, and a wide range of passing if need be. It’s a theme with midfielders who are coached by Jorge Jesus that they are extremely versatile. Midfielders such as Ruben Amorim, Enzo Perez, and Andre Almeida all had their playing style molded and changed by the Benfica coach, and Gomes is no different.

In January, it was announced that a third party, Meriton Capital Limited, bought 100% of Gomes’ rights from Benfica. Though he continued to play for Benfica for the remainder of the season, he was not actually owned by the team. As soon as the midfielder was purchased, rumors about his future began. Monaco, Liverpool, and Valencia were all touted as possible destinations, a great example of the esteem in which Gomes is kept. Some recent developments may answer the question of “where to?” for Gomes.

The owner of Meriton Capital Limited, Peter Lim, has recently purchased Spanish-based club Valencia. According to sources, Lim wants to bring Gomes to Spain next season, and as no money would have to change hands, the move would be simple. The midfielder has been quiet about his future at Benfica, simply stating that “I’m not really thinking about it.”

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?

Cavaleiro and Rafa Earn First Senior Calls


Rafa - Braga Preseason 2013-2014Paulo Bento announced the squad today for the Portuguese National Team’s upcoming match against Cameroon, to be played on March 5th. With Helder Postiga and Eder both injured, Bento called on Edinho, currently on loan at Kayseri Erciyesspor from Braga. Should Edinho make an appearance for the Seleccao, it will be his first in almost 5 years. Bento also took the opportunity to call up Rafa and Ivan Cavaleiro, who have both impressed for the Portugal Under-21 team and Braga and Benfica, respectively. Other surprise inclusions were Miguel Lopes, who has enjoyed a successful season on loan at Lyon from Sporting, and Rolando, who has established himself as a starter at Inter, where he is on loan from Porto. Paulo Bento did not call up Rui Patricio, who is undoubtedly the team’s first-choice goalkeeper, instead opting to call up Eduardo, Beto, and Anthony Lopes, most likely to test out who the second-choice will be.

Here’s the full list:

Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga)

Defenders: Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), Miguel Lopes (Lyon), João Pereira (Valencia), Pepe (Real Madrid), Neto (Zenit), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Rolando (Inter), Antunes (Málaga)

Midfielders: Josué (Porto), João Moutinho (Mónaco), Miguel Veloso (Dínamo Kiev), Rúben Amorim (Benfica), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), William Carvalho (Sporting).

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Edinho (Kayseri Erciyesspor), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Ivan Cavaleiro (Benfica), Rafa (Braga), Silvestre Varela (Porto)

Portugal Announce Pre World Cup Friendlies


Portugal vs Northern Ireland 2013The Portugal National Team will face Cameroon and Greece in the months before this summer’s World Cup. Portugal are slated to face the United States, Germany, and Ghana in Group G, one of the toughest groups of the tournament. Typically, pre-tournament friendlies are scheduled based on tournament opposition. Portugal will face Ghana, so they have scheduled to face a similar team in Cameroon. Greece play a tough defensive style, which is very similar to Germany’s strong defensive backbone. There are still a couple of spots open for pre-World Cup friendlies, and one can expect a similar team to United States to be scheduled soon.

Portugal Edge Sweden


Portugal vs Sweden - Helder Postiga

Portugal 1-0 Sweden

2014 World Cup Playoff Leg 1

The Portuguese National Football team edged Sweden 1-0 in the first leg encounter of the playoff for next summer’s World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo was the lone scorer in a match which was focused on the rivalry between two of the world’s finest footballers at the moment: Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Each are the face of their national teams, and much was made pre-game about how the two would fare against each other. It was Cristiano who came out on top, giving Portugal an advantage before the return leg in Sweden.

It became evident soon after the start of the match that Sweden would take a defensive stance, with the team essentially playing a 4-4-1-1, with Johan Elmander playing directly behind Zlatan. Portugal countered this by playing with more of an attacking mindset, and though they seemed vulnerable to a counterattack, controlled the match well. The first half ended without much incident, with both teams unable to break the deadlock, despite coming close.

The second half was a much more lively affair, with Portugal throwing more men behind the ball. Ronaldo became more of an active participant, while Ibrahimovic became more of a bystander in the match. This highlights the shift in the match. And this came to fruition in the 80th minute. Veloso picked up the ball down the left flank, and sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by a diving header from Ronaldo to open the scoring in Portugal’s favor. That was how the match ended: 1-0 to Portugal.

Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Fabio Coentrao, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles(Josue), Nani, Ronaldo, Helder Postiga(Hugo Almeida)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

William Carvalho Called for Play-off


William CarvalhoWilliam Carvalho has earned his first call-up to the Portuguese National Team for the World Cup playoff matches against Sweden on the 15th and 19th. The holding midfielder’s performances this season have been nothing short of spectacular, and many believe that this call is overdue. So impressive are his performances that Barcelona, Manchester United, and Arsenal are all seriously interested in acquiring his services.

The Seleccao face Sweden at home on the 15th, and in Sweden on the 19th. This is a do or die situation for Portugal, with qualification for their eighth consecutive major tournament on the line. Here’s the entire list:

Goalkeepers – Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui Patrício (Sporting)
Defenders – João Pereira (Valência), Ricardo Costa (Valência), André Almeida (Benfica), Antunes (Málaga), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahçe), Luís Neto (Zenit)
Midfielders – Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), William Carvalho (Sporting), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahçe), João Moutinho (Mónaco), Rúben Micael (Braga), Josué (Porto)
Forwards – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Nani (Manchester United), Varela (Porto), Bruma (Galatasaray), Hélder Postiga (Valência), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Éder (Braga)

Portugal Draw Sweden


Paulo BentoSweden will be the final test for the Portuguese National Football team in their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, as the two-legged draw will decide which team will earn a spot in Brazil. While Sweden will be a stern test for the Seleccao, the team did manage to avoid drawing France, who are a very strong side at the moment. The two legs of the playoff will happen on November 15th (in the Estadio da Luz) and on November 19th (in Sweden). Should Portugal fail to defeat Sweden in the play-off, it would mean that the Seleccao would not qualify for the World Cup. This would be a huge disappointment, seeing as Portugal has qualified for every major tournament since 2000.