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?