Marcos Lopes was predictably the man-of-the-match today as Portugal defeated Israel 3-0 in their opening match of the 2014 U-19 European Championship. A goal from Andre Silva was sandwiched in between two Marcos Lopes goals, as Portugal’s attacking prowess greatly outweighed Israel’s much heralded defensive solidarity. But Portugal wasn’t a one-man team, as may be assumed with this title. The Portuguese looked a cohesive unit, with a clear focal point in attack and an effective gameplan.
The Portuguese entered this game and this tournament as clear favorites, with the other teams in Group A (Austria and Hungary) not expected to pose very much of a threat. Israel only conceded three goals in all of qualifying (6 games), which led many to believe that the Israeli’s defense would be very difficult to break down. And that assertion proved to be true, but possibly not to the extent that many predicted. When looking at each team’s tendencies going into this game (Portugal strong in attack, Israel in defense), one may have assumed that this would be a stop-start game, or at the very least would lack fluidity. That also did not prove to be true. The match was fluid, full of attacking intent, and though Portugal pressed more expertly at times, the teams looked largely even. Israel just lacked a cutting edge, something that Portugal exploited.
The match started in fluid fashion, with Portugal making use (as always) of their pacy, technically-gifted wingers. Gelson Martins started on the left with Ivo Rodrigues on the right. Both are well-known talents, but it was Gelson Martins who had the more impressive game, constantly running at the Israeli defense and giving Israel’s left-back a torrid time. The first chance of note came midway through the half. Marcos Lopes did well to draw a foul on the edge of the box. He then struck the ensuing free kick into the crossbar. It was beautifully hit, and he will feel a bit unlucky that his shot didn’t hit the back of the net. Portugal continued to press, and despite controlling the match, Israel did not look out of the contest. But it was Portugal who struck next through their talisman. A simple passing move from the team led to Marcos Lopes being open just outside the box. After receiving a pass from the captain, Tomas Podstawski, Lopes turned and shot. His effort deflected fortunately off of an Israeli player and crept past the Israeli goalkeeper. With the score 1-0, Portugal went into the half surely feeling better about the proceedings.
Israel, surely feeling that they were unlucky to be down 1-0, came out in the second half with much more attacking intent. As a result, the Portuguese played a more conservative style in the minutes following the half. But despite their best efforts, Israel’s attacking play was well thwarted by Portugal’s defensive efforts. And it was Portugal who struck again just after the hour mark. Marcos Lopes sprayed the ball out wide to Mauro Riquicho (Portugal’s right-back). Riquicho aimed a cross to the far post, which was headed back into the path of Gelson Martins. Martins’ shot was parried by the Israeli goalkeeper directly into the path of Andre Silva, who tapped the ball into the net. With the score 2-0 in favor of Portugal, the team continued to press, and although Israel came close a few times, it was largely one-way traffic in favor of Portugal. And about a quarter of an hour after their second goal, Portugal extended their lead even further through their star man, Marcos Lopes. Portugal won a corner kick, which was cleared by Israel only as far as Joao Nunes, who sent in a cross. The cross was also dealt with by the Israelis, but their clearance was acrobatically saved by Nuno Santos. His pass was found by Marcos Lopes, who took a touch around an opposition player and then proceeded to strike a wonderful left-footed volley, which left the Israeli goalkeeper rooted to the spot. With Portugal up 3-0, the Portuguese did not look very keen on trying to extend their lead any further, and the match flow was largely lost. That goal was the last event of note in the match, and the game ended with a score of 3-0 in favor of Portugal.
Portugal will now face hosts Hungary in three days time. Hungary lost their match today against Austria by a score of 3-1. Should Portugal defeat Hungary, which at this point looks very likely, the team will advance to the semi-finals and will guarantee a spot in next summer’s U-20 World Cup.
Andre Moreira, Joao Nunes, Domingos Duarte, Rafa(Rebocho), Mauro Riquicho, Raphael Guzzo(Francisco Ramos), Tomas Podstawski, Marcos Lopes, Gelson Martins(Nuno Santos), Ivo Rodrigues, Andre Silva
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.
Porto midfielder Antonio Jose Pinheiro Carvalho, more commonly referred to as “Toze“, has joined Liga Zon Sagres side Estoril from Porto on a two-season loan deal. Speculation on Toze’s future had been building ever since the season ended, and the midfielder was heavily linked to Estoril following the announcement of Porto’s purchase of Estoril’s Evandro. Following the sale of Carlitos from Estoril to Sion, Toze’s loan deal was arranged, and the midfielder will join the team immediately.
Estoril have had two fairy-tale seasons back-to-back. After being promoted after the 2011-2012 season, Estoril finished their first season in the top flight in almost a decade at an impressive 5th place. They improved upon that success with an even more impressive 4th place finish last season. The mastermind behind the revival was their young coach Marco Silva, who was promptly signed by Sporting Lisbon this off-season. Though they lost their talismanic leader, there is still much hope for the future. Jose Couceiro has taken charge. Couceiro is a hugely experienced coach, having spent time in Turkey, Russia, and Lithuania coaching before returning to Portugal last season to take charge at Vitoria Setubal. In his only season in Setubal, Couceiro led the team to an impressive 7th place finish, their best finish since the 2007-2008 season. A large amount of his success was due to his penchant for thrifty transfers. Striker Rafael Martins was signed on loan at the beginning of the season, and was a virtual unknown. By the end of the season, Martins had scored 15 league goals and was attracting serious interest from clubs such as Porto and Benfica. Couciero also has very few qualms about playing young, raw talent. Last season at Vitoria Setubal, Couceiro boldly gave Ricardo Horta a starting spot on the left wing. By the end of the season, Horta had established himelf as one of the team’s finest assets, and was according attracting interest from Benfica.
With a proven tactician in charge this season at Estoril in the form of Jose Couceiro, the team’s future looks bright. Toze will join the team to fill the voids opened following the departures of Carlitos and Evandro. With spots open in the team, Toze’s chance at playing time looks promising. And with a two-year loan deal, the midfielder has ample time to show what he’s worth and to develop into the player that Porto believes he can become.
Sporting Braga are looking to put a disappointing season behind them. After the arrival of club legend and proven tactician Jesualdo Ferreira at the beginning of last season, much was expected of the team. But after a string of bad results, the Minho club found themselves at 9th place in the league by the end of the season, their worst finish since the 2002-2003 season. And that finish was all the worse as Braga was not even present in European competition, after failing to qualify for the Europa League(knocked out in the play-off by Romanian side Pandurii).
This season looks to go better. Antonio Salvador, the frugal and competent president of the club, immediately signed Sergio Conceicao as the head coach. Conceicao, who was a regular for the national team during his playing days, joined from Academica, where he guided the team to an 8th place finish. Since taking charge at Braga, Conceicao has made a number of transfers, most notably of Danilo Barbosa da Silva, who is a highly-regarded Brazilian midfield prospect, and Matheus Magalhaes, a 21-year old Brazilian goalkeeper.
Fabio Martins is coming off a stellar first season at Desporto Aves
But Conceicao is not just looking to Brazilian talent. Aves winger Fabio Martins is another of Conceicao’s recruits. Martins joins after an impressive season for Aves, where he managed 33 league appearances, helping the team to an impressive 4th placed finish in the Segunda Liga. A product of Porto’s youth academy, Martins made his senior debuts in the 2012-2013 season for Porto’s B team, appearing 29 times for the team. After that season, Aves signed Martins on a free transfer, and with another impressive season under his belt, he looks set to join Braga and show his skills on a larger stage.
Carlos Fortes will be looking to lead Braga B’s attack next season
With the advent of the B-team system in Portugal two seasons ago, teams such as Braga, Benfica, and Sporting (among others) had the opportunity to give their younger players valuable playing time in the Segunda Liga while also keeping them close enough to track and influence their development. Benfica, Porto, and Sporting have all found success with their B-teams, with all three finishing well last season. Braga’s team was not as fortunate. Only managing a 20th place finish, the Minho team barely escaped a disastrous season. Braga is a team that has historically not been gifted with many financial resources, and their lack of investment in the B-team last season shows the lack of resources perfectly. Likely looking to build the team and the future of the club, Conceicao has signed 19 year old Portuguese striker Carlos Fortes from Spanish club Racing Santander. Fortes had spells with various youth teams in Portugal before moving to Spain. In Spain, though he did not manage a single senior appearance for Santander, Fortes caught the attention of the Portuguese U-20s coach. The striker went on to make three appearances for the U-20 team. There is every indication that Fortes is set to join Braga’s B team and spearhead their attack next season. This signing, coupled with players promoted from the U-19 youth team (who won the Portuguese U-19 championship last season), may prove to be exactly what the team needs.
Portugal’s Liga Zon Sagres has formed a reputation for being one of the best formative leagues in Europe. With a seemingly endless conveyer-belt of talent flowing out of the league, it is no wonder that so many young players choose Portugal over other countries. Players such as David Luiz, Fabio Coentrao, Di Maria, Joao Moutinho, Hulk, and Falcao (among others) have all spent their formative years in the Iberian country, only to make multi-million euro moves abroad to some of the finest teams in the world.
This season, there are many young Portuguese talents who will be hoping to emulate the likes of Coentrao and Joao Moutinho; with hopes to earn a big move abroad; with hopes to be noticed by Paulo Bento and be selected for the national team. Regardless, there is much hope, both for the players and the spectators. At the root of all of this is a single hope: that Portuguese football may grow.
In this segment, Portugal Football is highlighting 25 under-22 Portuguese players from across the Liga Zon Sagres. These players are certainly players to watch for. Some are already proven players, while some are yet to showcase their talents on the big stage. So, without further ado, the ones to watch.
Benfica B’s left-back and captain Luis Martins has been loaned to Liga Zon Sagres side Gil Vicente until the end of the season. The defender featured briefly in Benfica’s campaign last season, making four appearances in the league, and one in the Champions League. This season, however, with the inclusion of B teams into Portuguese football, Martins was demoted to the B team, in the Liga Orangina, and made captain. His performances for the team have been stellar. From left-back, he has already scored two goals, and he has led the team to success in the league. Now, it is evident that his skills warrant playing in a higher league. Gil Vicente have come knocking, and Martins will likely be a fixture in the side for the remainder of the season.
Portugal U-21 coach Rui Jorge, who recently signed a three year contract extension, has named a completely new squad for the team’s upcoming friendly match against Ukraine on October 15th. Jorge called up only two players who had previously represented the U-21 team (Sergio Oliveira and Luis Martins). The rest have never played for the U-21 team. This squad is thought to be the start of a new cycle, and will likely be the ones who battle for qualification for the 2015 U-21 Euro. Here’s the full squad:
Goalkeepers: Daniel Fernandes (Bochum), Joao Pinho (Oliveirense), Luis Ribeiro (Sporting B)
Defenders: Andre Costa (Rio Ave), David Bruno (Porto B), Josue (Vitoria Guimaraes B), Luis Martins (Benfica B), Miguel Lourenco (Vitoria Setubal), Paulo Oliveira (Vitoria Guimaraes ), Ricardo Ferreira (Empoli), Rui Coentrao (Varzim)
Midfielders: Edu (Porto B), Francisco Junior (Everton), Amorim (Trofense), Sergio Oliveira (Porto B), Tiago Rodrigues (Vitoria Guimaraes), William (Cercle Brugge)
Forwards: Alberto Seidi (Southampton), Aldair (Penafiel), To Mane (Vitoria Guimaraes B), Fabio Nunes (Blackburn Rovers), Paulinho (Trofense), Luis Gustavo (Barcelona B)
2013 UEFA U-21 European Championship Qualification
The Portugal U-21 team will be disappointed to learn that they have narrowly missed out on qualification to next summer’s U-21 European Championship. A 0-0 draw with Poland today was not enough to qualify for the play-offs, with the team being overtaken in the standings at the last second, after Switzerland defeated Estonia.
The game started off quite lethargically, with nothing of note occurring until well into the first half. Some excellent wing-play from Andre Martins set up David Simao for a shot, but the midfielder uncharacteristically made a mess of it. Though the shot was missed, it was encouraging play nonetheless. The half ended with the scores level at 0-0.
Predictably, the second half was a much more lively affair. Poland had the first chance when a well-struck free-kick was put just over. Portugal responded well, with Andre Martins going close, and then Wilson Eduardo almost breaking the deadlock twice. As the time winded down, the game winded up. Anthony Lopes had to be on alert, as Poland were barraging the Portuguese goal with shot after shot. Last minute efforts from Wilson Eduardo and Salvador Agra were not enough to break the deadlock, and the game finished at a disappointing 0-0.
Anthony Lopes, Cedric, Ruben Ferreira, Nuno Reis, Pedro Mendes, Andre Almeida, Josue, Andre Martins(Fredy), David Simao(Wilson Eduardo), Rui Fonte(Abel Camara), Salvador Agra
Manuel Fernandes and Carlos Martins have both had to pull out of the Portuguese squad due to injury ahead of the team’s upcoming games against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg. Called to replace them are Eder and Ruben Amorim, both of Braga. Both have enjoyed solid starts to their respective season, each having a hand in Braga’s qualification to the Champion’s League. This is Eder’s maiden call for the Seleccao, while Amorim has appeared once before for the team.
The Portuguese Under-21 team earned a hard-fought victory over Macedonia on Tuesday. Andre Martins and Fredy were the goalscorers for the Seleccao. This game primarily served as a warm-up game to next month’s must-win game against Poland. A win against Poland will almost guarantee qualification.
The game started brightly for Portugal, who had many of the chances in the first half. Their positive attacking play was rewarded in the 24th minute, when Andre Martins redirected a David Simao shot into the back of the net. The first half ended with Portugal on top of the proceedings, with the score at 1-0. Rui Jorge made ten substitutions in the second half, and in doing so, gave four players their debuts with the U-21 team. These players were Joao Amorim, Goncalo Silva, Anibal Capela, and Sergio Oliveira. The natural flow of the game was affected accordingly by the mass substitutions in the second half, and Portugal were punished for it when, in the 76th minute, Macedonia equalized. With the game tied at 1-1, a breakthrough was needed. That is exactly what Fredy did just six minutes later. The substitute received the ball, and smashed a long-range shot into the back of the net with ease. That was how the game ended: 2-1. Portugal was obviously the better team, but had problems capitalizing on their chances.
Anthony Lopes(Cristiano)(Mika), Cedric(Joao Amorim), Pedro Mendes(Goncalo Silva), Vitor Bastos(Anibal Capela), Ruben(Luis Martins), Andre Almeida(Diogo Amado), Andre Martins(Sergio Oliveira), Josue (Leandro Pimenta), Abel Camara(Rui Fonte), Salvador Agra(Wilson), David Simao(Fredy)