Portugal 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?