Ronaldo Hat-trick Enough to Quell Armenia Comeback


Photo: Lusa

Photo: Lusa

Armenia 2-3 Portugal

Euro 2016 Qualifying

A superb hat-trick from Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was enough to earn Portugal a 3-2 victory against Armenia in tonight’s Euro 2016 qualification match. Portugal came into this match knowing that a win would all but guarantee them a place in next summer’s tournament. Despite going behind in the first half, Portugal responded well, scoring three goals to swell the lead to 3-1. But in the 62nd minute, Tiago received his marching orders, after picking up a second yellow. Just ten minutes later, Armenia scored, narrowing Portugal’s lead to one goal. That prompted a tense end to the match, but Portugal did enough to hold on for the win.  Continue reading

Preview: Portugal vs Armenia


Tiago Gomes could start against Armenia. Photo Record.xl.pt

Tiago Gomes could start against Armenia. Photo Record.xl.pt

Fernando Santos will look to build on a sound start to his tenure in the Portuguese dugout ahead of a clash against Group I dark horses Armenia in the Algarve. Having come away with the three points in Copenhagen after a last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo effort, A Seleção da Quinas will be confident of building on a professional display in their last hit-out in front of a packed Faro crowd. Continue reading

Fernando Santos Ushers in a New Era


Fernando SantosNewly-appointed Portuguese National Team head coach Fernando Santos announced today the squad to face France and Denmark on the 11th and 14th, respectively. And it is quite a breath of fresh air. Formerly exiled/ignored players such as Jose Fonte, Adrien Silva, Danny, Quaresma, and Ricardo Carvalho under Bento have been given a call by Santos. That, combined with new players such as Cedric, Joao Mario, and Ivo Pinto, gives Fernando Santos’s Portugal a fresh feel.Bento’s so-called “old guard” appear to be on the way out. Players like Raul Meireles, Ricardo Costa, Joao Pereira, Helder Postiga, and Hugo Almeida were omitted from the squad, making way for younger, newer players. Continue reading

Match Report: Portugal Slump to Disappointing Defeat


Eder - Portugal vs Albania - 9/7/14Portugal 0 – 1 Albania

Aveiro calls for Bento’s head as Portugal fall… again

Bento is continuing to make history at the helm of A Seleção das Quinas as Portugal lost their first home game in European qualification since 1998. A sole Balaj effort in the 52nd minute capped off an inspired display from the Albanians, turned qualification contenders from ‘whipping boys’ as Portugal stuttered and spluttered their lines. The critics will be licking their chops as an average ‘Ronaldo-less’ side failed to argue their case without the Real Madrid starlet as the Aveiro crowd whistled and jeered, with a fair few waving handkerchiefs towards the dugout, as Bento and co. got their comeuppance.

Portugal: Rui Patricio; Coentrão, Ricardo Costa (Veloso 74), Pepe, João Pereira; William Carvalho (Horta 56), André Gomes, Moutinho; Nani, Vieirinha (Cavaleiro 45) and Éder

Albania: Berisha; Agolli, Mavraj, Cana, Hisaj; Kukeli (Kace 66), Roshi, Abrashi, Xhaka, Lenjani (Lila 75); Balaj (Cikalleshi 86)

Bento’s Portuguese starting eleven was a largely expected one, with a couple of long-awaited changes, which kept the same 4-3-3 system. Costa came in for the injured Alves, with Gomes and Carvalho welcomed into the starting eleven’s midfield three for Veloso and Meireles, with William acting as the midfield anchor and Gomes taking up an advanced role next to Moutinho. Éder set up shop up top as the lone striker, flanked by Nani and Vieirinha for the injured Ronaldo.

Giovanni De Biasi and his charges were looking to emulate previous successes against A Seleção das Quinas having mustered draws in the 2008 and 2012 European qualification, with their most recent clash only decided by a last-minuted effort from Bruno Alves. These results were largely defined by resolute ten-man defending, with the Italian playing a 4-5-1 formation with Kukeli as the holding defensive midfielder and Balaj the lone-striker.

A lot of huff and puff with little to show for it

Portugal’s start to the encounter had appointed captain for the day Nani at the focal point of every attack. The Manchester United loanee, now gracing the Sporting kit, set up Portugal’s first effort on goal from the dead ball as it was deflected into the onrushing Costa off the Albanian shot stopper Berisha, only to go out for a goal kick. Nani’s exploits were followed up by a shot dragged wide after a neat a one-two with Moutinho on the edge of the box and a cross into Eder whose header sailed wide.

Some early attacking pressure in their defensive half aside, Albania continued to sit back and absorb what little Portugal threw at them as the home team lacked cohesion in their build-play, not unusual for a side lacking match sharpness but worrying considering the opposition. Still, the visitors caused little trouble at the other end, with their first real chance of the game coming from a corner resulting in an easy Patricio save.

Portugal’s best opportunities continued to come from the deal ball as Moutinho found Vieirinha, only for the 29-year-old to head his effort straight to the attentive Berisha who made another clutch save.

At the half hour mark Portugal had little to show for their attacking intent, with four half chances, including three headers, inflicting no damage to the scoreboard, no thanks to Albania’s tireless work ethic, with Roshi man-marking Moutinho at every occasion, hassling and harrying the midfield lynchpin.

No goals but fouls aplenty

The game continued to lack goalmouth action in a stop-start affair littered by fouls from both sides as the Aveiro crowd remained dissatisfied as Portugal’s impatience grew in finding that killer pass against a continually resolute Albanian ten-man defence.

At every opportunity the officals were barraged by whistles as the Albanian’s fouled the Lusos at any opportunity in a match earmarked by challenges galore as Roshi, Costa and Moutinho were all at the receiving end.

Portugal continued to venture forward in a fruitless effort to take the lead at the 41st minute as Nani found some space, setting himself for a curled effort outside the box only for his shot to be blocked by Mavraj for the corner.

The ensuing corner was headed well by Costa but blocked and cleared near the line, followed by an Éder appeal for a penalty that was dutifully waved away as Portugal produced their most concerted period in attack.

The best chances for the half for either side came at its climax, with an effort from the ever-present Roshi keeping the largely uninvolved Patricio on his toes with crucial save. Portugal’s came once again from the set piece and again from a header, as Nani whipped in a beautiful ball for Pepe to muster into a looping header that should have tested Berisha but arched over the bar.

Paulo Bento was left with a concerning statistic at half-time. Eight shots and only one on target.

Cavaleiro and Horta deemed the answer as Bento makes his move

Plenty of huff and puff had little to show for in blowing down an unyielding brick house that was the Albania defence. Paulo Bento looked to shake things up, brining on youngster Ivan Cavaleiro for Wolfsburg winger Vieirinha in the hope of breaking the deadlock.

Portuguese consistent but fruitless exploits down the flanks continued but to no avail as Albania continued to muster dangerous opportunities, with a counter led by Balaj ending with Roshi unleashing a cross into the box missed by everyone, only to be touched behind for the corner.

In the end, it was Albania who would take the deserved lead at the 52nd minute with a peach of a goal from Bekim Balaj. His partner in crime Roshi timed a perfect cross to the Slavia Prague striker who was obliged to have an effort, scoring his first international goal in the process after unleashing a lethal shot past Patricio on the turn.

One-nil and Portugal needed a change with Paulo Bento heeding call, bringing on another forward in the form of Horta in the foray who started his debut with a glaring effort from outside the box.

Eder continued to show little for his involvement, with his inability to hold-up the ball and contribute to the attack to any real effect adding to Portuguese frustrations. Portugal was left playing a formation similar to that of a 4-2-4, with Moutinho and Gomes left to fend for themselves in the middle of the pitch.

A Nani effort that was always rising and a Coentrão chance that trickled wide towards the far post followed but Portugal were facing their 3rd consecutive European qualifying campaign without a win, with only one shot on target to show for a largely disappointing display.

Luckless Portugal didn’t deserve it

Portugal’s chance of the tie came from a poor Nani free kick. His effort bounced off the Albanian wall, with Horta recovering the ball and unleashing a lovely curled effort that hit the corner of the goal frame, only to be followed up by a Pepe effort that sailed over the bar. Coentrão continued to persist as he ran riot down the left, setting up Nani whose header went disappointingly wide when it would’ve been easier to score.

In the dying embers of the tie, Coentrão and Gomes’ efforts from the left were both met by Berisha saves as the travelling contingent of Albanian support rejoiced at the final whistle. The Portuguese faithful waved white handkerchiefs in response, dismayed by their side’s performance as Bento’s collar grew ever tighter around his neck.

Call for change

Paulo Bento continued to echo familiar sentiments for an “unjust result” post-match but Portugal should not feel hard done by. Bento’s foregoing of a friendly fixture the week prior will be questioned as Portugal continued to run out of ideas, failing to recover the deficit with uninspiring football lacking cohesion, polish and understanding against a side that many considered to be the group’s whipping boys.

With Denmark, Serbia and Armenia to follow, Bento will find it hard to sleep in the coming nights as the Portuguese media continue to smell blood in even murkier waters. Although still early days, and with an injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Portuguese side riddled with inconsistencies correlating to the start of a new season, a squad full of undoubted quality and potential against a side ranked 70th in the world has no excuses.

The FPF’s stubbornness and commitment to have kept Bento at the helm after a lacklustre display at the World Cup having signed him on until after Euro 2016 will be tested as he continues to man a sinking ship. A brave display from the Albanians, and potentially the performance of their lives, was dutifully rewarded as Portugal was left to lick their wounds at the final whistle. The big question is, will Bento stay on?

Preview: Portugal vs Albania


Paulo Bento - Portugal

Portugal vs Albania

Match Preview

The Portuguese National Team will kick off their UEFA Euro 2016 qualification campaign tomorrow when they host Albania. Portugal is also joined in Group I by Denmark, Armenia, and Serbia. France will also play all of the teams in Group I, but the matches will not count towards the final group standings, as France is automatically qualified as host of Euro 2016. With Serbia, Denmark, and Armenia all wildcards capable of giving Portugal trouble, one feels that the matches against Albania are must-wins for the Portuguese.

Paulo Bento named a decidedly new-look Portuguese team for this match, most likely as a response to team selection criticism after the World Cup. Bento has earned a reputation lately for being set in his ways. Many believe he is too much set in his ways, but the fact that he has stuck with players who are past their prime is one that cannot be overlooked. Players such as Raul Meireles, Helder Postiga, and Miguel Veloso have all seen better days, but are still automatic starters under Bento. Players such as William Carvalho, Jose Fonte, and Adrien Silva have been given few opportunities, despite stellar performances. In fact, with the example of Fonte and Adrien, Bento has not even selected these players, despite their solid performances in the Premier League and the Portuguese Liga, respectively.

When it was announced that Paulo Bento would stay on as coach until at least Euro 2016, many fans feared more of the same favoritism for two more years. This favoritism, many fear, could cost the team qualification for Euro 2016, which could be the first time Portugal has not qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. But, with the team that Bento selected for tomorrow’s match against Albania, many of the hardcore opponents will be appeased. In the team that Bento named, no less than seven players have the opportunity to make their debuts. These players are Pedro Tiba (Braga), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Ricardo Horta (Malaga), Bruma (Galatasaray), Ruben Vezo (Valencia), and Adrien Silva (Sporting). All seven are enjoying positive starts to their respective seasons, and it is encouraging that Bento is giving opportunities to young, capable players. And there are some statistics that show Bento’s change in heart:


Average age of 2014 World Cup squad: 27.9 years old

Average age of squad named for Albania game: 25.6 years old

Average number of appearances for 2014 World Cup squad: 34.5 caps

Average number of appearances for squad named for Albania Game: 23.4 caps


As the numbers show, the team that Bento named for tomorrow’s match is both drastically younger and more inexperienced. This decision to boot experience and age in favor of younger, more inexperienced players could prove to be a positive decision. The Portuguese are coming off of a tournament that they were expected to perform much better than they did. With their star man Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly at his height as a footballer at the age of 29, the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be Ronaldo’s. Portugal had an experienced team, which was led by arguably the finest player in the world at the time of the tournament, and the team was expected to beat out the United States and Ghana easily to earn a second-place spot behind Germany (at least) in Group G. The rest is history, and the decision by Bento now to bring in new faces suggests that he is preparing the team to move on and look ahead to future challenges (such as Euro 2016).


Portugal last met Albania in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. At that time, the team was led by Carlos Queiroz, who if nothing else, instilled a defensive solidarity in the team. In the 10 matches during qualification, the team only conceded five goals in total. When the team met Albania in those qualifying matches, both teams’ tactics cancelled each other’s out. Both were defensive-leaning teams, and though Portugal possessed much greater talent, the outcomes were stale matches. The two times the teams played, the outcomes were a 0-0 draw and a last-minute 2-1 victory for Portugal.

This time around, Portugal plays a much more open, attacking style of play, one that can be used towards a much more positive result against Albania. Though the team will be lacking their start man, Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no shortage of talent and dynamism in the team. As this is a qualification match, Paulo Bento will likely keep his experimenting to a minimum.

Rui Patricio is a no-brainer to start in goal as a result of solid performances both for Sporting at the Seleccao recently. In front of Patricio will likely be a familiar back-line, something that Bento may be reluctant to change. Fabio Coentrao merits inclusion at left-back, while Joao Pereira could very well start on the right. There is a possibility that Joao Pereira could be benched in favor of Andre Almeida. Pereira’s future at Valencia is currently up in the air, and Bento has given hints that his starting spot is not set in stone. Pepe will likely start, seeing as he has been Real Madrid and Portugal’s starter for some time. The other center-back spot will likely come down between Ricardo Costa and Luis Neto. Though Ricardo Costa is 33 and not playing in a major league, Bento will likely choose him to start.

In midfield, Bento will likely have learned his lesson with William Carvalho. Carvalho will most likely start ahead of Miguel Veloso. Ahead of Carvalho will likely be Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho. Meireles, who is one of the players whose lackluster performances lately have been noticed, may be benched in favor of Adrien Silva, whose performances for Sporting have been wonderful. On the wings, Nani will likely resume his starting position, after playing regularly for Sporting. Filling the hole left by Ronaldo will likely be Vieirinha, who is impressing at Wolfsburg. Up top should be Eder, who is the team’s most viable option as striker. Bento has also hinted that Ivan Cavaleiro could be used as striker for the team, but it remains clear who will start.

Here’s the full lineup, as predicted:

Portugal-Albania predicted lineup

If the team can learn from its previous mistakes, Portugal should have no problem with this game. The fact that Bento is giving opportunities to younger players, the morale and drive of the team should be very high. A positive performance in this game could very well put their underwhelming performances at the World Cup behind them. Put simply, a win tomorrow can be the first step towards a new chapter in Portuguese football.


 

PortugalFutbol prediction: Portugal 4-1 Albania

Bernardo Silva loaned to Monaco


Bernardo Silva - Portugal U21

Bernardo Silva

Benfica to Monaco (loan)

In a bizarre move, Bernardo Silva has joined Monaco on loan from Benfica for the entire season. A very talented prospect for the future, Silva was expected to leave Benfica on loan this season, after clearly outgrowing his spot on the B team. It comes as a bit of a surprise that Silva has joined Monaco, who have established themselves as one of the strongest teams in France at the moment. Bernardo Silva will likely be used in roughly the same position as James Rodriguez, who departed Monaco last month in a big-money move to Real Madrid. There’s no way to predict how much playing time Silva will receive, having not before competed for a position in a first team. But with fellow Portuguese Leonardo Jardim at the helm at the French club, anything can happen. Bernardo Silva will join fellow countrymen Joao Moutinho and Ricardo Carvalho, as well as the aforementioned Leonardo Jardim.

Portugal Crash Out of World Cup Despite Win


Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal V Ghana

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)

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