3 Reasons Why Portugal Needs to Tap Into Their ‘Fountain of Youth’


Ricardo Esgaio - Portugal U21 - with Luis Martins and Ricardo

It’s About Time

3 Reasons Why Portugal Needs to Tap Into Their ‘Fountain of Youth’ RIGHT NOW!


 

I still can’t get over it. And when I blink, it’s like I’m watching the whole thing all over again. I floss, and I think about Joao Moutinho’s flat cross. I mop, and I think about Nani coming to a complete stop. I order a pizza slice, and I think about Eder’s version of Bambi on ice. It’s that game… that miserable excuse of a game where Portugal actually lost 1-0 at home to Albania.

In terms of horrifying matches to experience, it ranks right up there with the Euro 2004 final – it gave me a loss of appetite, laryngitis, nausea, dizziness, and a broken remote control. But, what sets them apart is that this latest result didn’t come with a broken heart. It came with a full-blown crisis. And that makes things even worse. Continue reading

Fernando Santos: What Can We Expect from Portugal’s New Boss?


Portugal Cyprus Euro 2012 Qual

Could we see Ricardo Carvalho back in the team?

The Portuguese Football Federation announced this week the appointment of Fernando Santos as the Selecao’s head coach. Santos has filled the position left vacated by the departure of Paulo Bento, the team’s previous coach. Bento was known for his stubbornness, which resulted in stagnant team selections, as well as some players being exiled from the team. With Santos now in charge, there is a natural hope for a renewed team; one that is open to any player deemed worthy to represent it. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from Fernando Santos, in terms of player selection and tactics. Continue reading

Opinion: Portugal vs Albania – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly


Paulo Bento - Portugal vs AlbaniaPortugal came into the first Group I game against Albania at the Estádio Municipal Mário Duarte in Aveiro, off of what most consider a poor World Cup.

The team had a lot to prove, and Bento did make changes bringing in a lot of fresh faces into the squad and starting line-up. Gone from the starting roster were habitual starters Postiga, Meireles, and Veloso replaced by Eder, Andre Gomes, and William. More importantly Cristiano Ronaldo was left off the squad by personal request so he could play in Real games as he is still not fully fit, he was replaced by Vieirinha (more on this later).

A whole lot of movement that had Portuguese fans excited before the game but what hasn’t changed is that Bento employs the same methods, tactics, and formations from the bench. The result was even worse than most could imagine, the poor fans that bleed red and green endured a pathetic display that resulted in Albania winning away to Portugal 1-0. The world press caught on and Portugal was a major sporting headline for media outlets like the NY Times that barely cover football/soccer.

What transpired on the pitch was more of the same traumatic scene as we as a collective have seen in recent memory from the Portuguese National team, a squad that has gone 2-2-1 in their last 5 games. To cap it off Bento goes down in history as one of the few Managers, that you can count on one hand, that Albania has won away to in a competitive match, with the likes of Norway, Luxembourg, & Kazakhstan the only other nations to fail to Albania at home in the last two decades. Albania in Euro Qualification has only 8 wins, 20 losses, and 15 draws in the last two decades. The only other away win in Euro qualifying in that time was against the giants of Luxembourg.

This result has many fans in a huff and deservedly so, especially in the smug face of Bento who doesn’t take ownership for any result. The fact that he has never won a serious trophy in his Managerial career must’ve eluded the FPF who hired him, and continue to employ him.
Bento started with a shocking 4-3-3 formation. Shocking in that it hasn’t been successful against the minnows of Europe in the last 4 decades, but learning from history isn’t a strong suit of the Supreme Leader.

Where most major sports teams are hiring advanced stats experts to benefit their teams, it can be said that even the most basic stats are neglected by the FPF and any of their revolving Managerial Dictators.

I love William and thought he should’ve started from day one in the WC, and it would’ve made a huge difference in the Group of Death, but what is the point of playing a Trinco (DM) in a game against a minnow?

Why start a 4-3-3 with a Trinco to win a non-existent midfield battle against a team that is going to park the bus?

This insanity the red and green blooded folk have had to endure the last 4 decades is not only idiotic, it is irresponsible, and preposterous. Portugal’s major nemesis is an organized defensive squad and that includes the minnows of Europe who park the bus. Yet the same tactics are used consistently year after year, and it has been to the detriment of some world class players.

Take our much maligned Strikers over the last few decades the majority of them lined up 2 at the front for their club teams where they had success, yet when they played on the National team against the best defenders in the world they were expected to play alone.

In all fairness CR & Nani who have manned the wings for the majority of the last decade aren’t the best of crossers or passers yet they are expected to find a lone man in the middle of two Center Backs, a Goalkeeper, and a Trinco (DM), a needle in a haystack in other words. I don’t care who it is, but if I walk into a fight with 3 of my buddies against one guy even if it is Anderson Silva the MMA Legend, he is going to take a one sided beating.

I can’t blame the Portuguese wingers either because it is an almost impossible task that requires perfection. Ronaldo is amazing, and Nani also has shown glimpses of that, but it is a big ask. What upset me most is the same formation and tactics employed, Portugal has become extremely predictable and easily defended. If not for the sheer quality of the players we wouldn’t even dominate possession, and would’ve failed years ago.
Over the years the likes of Pauleta, Gomes, and Postiga have been treated poorly, left alone to face the criticism their Managers should’ve taken. Gomes & Postiga scored some big goals for Portugal but were always chided for their efforts.

Eder is the current whipping boy, and although he holds the ball up well, when he is finally fed in the box it is either a ridiculous pass/cross or he has 4 defenders on him. The ESPN Colour Commentator yesterday suggested he lacked quality in his attempts, yet the truth was the quality attempts were lacking, left alone.

Oscar Cardozo for Benfica is prime example a monster goal scorer that was treated poorly by the revolving door of Managers at Benfica in his tenure. He was benched or played as a lone Striker, but in a two man attack system his lack of speed or defensive qualities made him lethal. Positioning is the key and the Goaldozer missed more than others scored. If you gave him a good ball to the feet or a header half the time it was bulging the back of the net, the space afforded to his lack of speed was exploited, repeatedly. Yet our Strikers for the National Team are afforded no space, no time, and multiple markers and they are expected to be world class.

Very few nations have a Striker that can play alone, yet the expectation from Portugal is that our frontmen should be able to do it, and we chastise them if they don’t succeed.

Portugal should start every game against a minnow in a 4-4-2 or in one of Jorge Jesus’ 2-2-6 formations.

The whole point of opponents parking the bus is getting 11 men behind the ball forcing Portugal to shoot from long range, or make a world class play that breaks the bus. With Ronaldo being the only good long range shot for the NT it is not a statistically viable option, and it has led to much heartbreak. Save the 4-3-3’s for games against quality opponents when you have to win a midfield battle, and using a Trinco like William would’ve been a good idea against Germany, not the defensively inept Meireles, Veloso, and Joao Pereira.

Overall Portugal dominated possession as expected in a 4-3-3 versus a minnow and against all odds broke Albania down repeatedly. The only thing missing was the FINAL BALL it was a night of atrocious shooting from Nani, Pepe, and many others in the face of goal that resulted in the loss.

Read Mitchell Rua’s excellent Match Report to get the detailed game review.


 

Time for the Good, Bad, and Ugly:

Good

  • Albania played their game to perfection hard fisted with the bus parked and kept threatening attempts to a minimum
  • NT lining the squad with young faces was a step in the right direction
  • Vieirinha was a beast on the left in for Ronaldo, and the little man created BIG danger
  • Andre Gomes got 500+ minutes under JJ at Benfica in two seasons??? Yet his calm and cool control has won him many fans abroad, he did not disappoint
  • Coentrao coming off his injury created havoc and was his usual problem self in the offensive zone, his mastery almost won the game
  • William didn’t have much to do but every possession counted, his vision and control of the field is deserving of his buyout clause being met in January, hopefully by Manchester United
  • Horta, Coentrao and Gomes had bombs that should’ve bulged the twine

Bad

  • Although Nani created dangerous situations and got into deadly areas his final ball was lacking, with CR out he was called upon, in the end it was a fail
  • Pepe had 3 good deliveries for a header none were close to the targetPepe not marking the only man in the box was sheer laziness that resulted in a loss
  • Ref handed out 6 yellow cards to Albania a couple of them should’ve been Benfica coloured, Albania was allowed to hack and did so all night, fortunately no long lasting injuries came of it
  • Adrien Silva not getting into the game, what does the impressive kid have to do?
  • Taking off the best player in the first half Vieirinha

The Ugly

  • Inviting only ONE STRIKER to a squad playing against a MINNOW
  • Playing a 4-3-3 with a Trinco against Albania is asinine
  • Bringing on Veloso as your last sub when you are down a goal
  • Being the only REAL team to lose to Albania at home EVER
  • Listening to Bento not QUIT or be FIRED directly after arguably the worst result in the history of the Portuguese National Team

In closing, I would like to address another problem area for the National Team, they have rightfully picked up a reputation from Ref’s with their unsportsmanlike behaviour (dating back to Bento’s suspension in the WC as a player) as cheats, divers, and meddling fakes. It surfaced again in the game against Albania where a couple of reds should’ve been lashed out but the Ref was right to be wary. It didn’t cost us the game, but it did affect it.

It is high time that this was addressed. No simulation, no surrounding the Ref begging/pushing, no more flashing of imaginary red cards, and no more sulking after not getting a call. It is starting to affect games, and will cost us at the highest level in the biggest games.
It doesn’t matter that teams like Germany and Italy live off of simulation they don’t have that reputation in the Ref’s eye.
Portuguese people are a hardy breed, especially abroad. Full of folks that work hard at back breaking jobs so nothing upsets them more than a bunch of Prima Dona’s on the pitch that don’t put in the effort, sulk, and dive repeatedly.

STOP IT!!

We need the Portuguese National Team to build back their reputation with sportsmanlike behaviour so we can get back the benefit of the doubt. So we can win big trophies like the World Cup winning German Diving Team, and the Italian Actors Guild.

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

Paulo Bento Shows Some Flexibility


Adrien has earned a call to the Portuguese National Team. Many believe his inclusion is long-overdue

Adrien has earned a call to the Portuguese National Team. Many believe his inclusion is long-overdue

Paulo Bento announced today a 24 man squad for the Portuguese National Team’s inaugural Euro 2016 qualification match against Albania on September 7th. The squad is markedly different from the one Bento named for this summer’s World Cup, with the likes of Ricardo Horta, Ruben Vezo, Adrien Silva, Pedro Tiba, Bruma, and Andre Gomes all new to the team. Bento has been criticized for his lack of flexibility both in team selections and tactics in recent months, and has received much of the blame for Portugal’s sub-par showing at the World Cup this summer.

While it appears that Bento looks to be changing things around (which is something that many will agree desperately needs to happen), there are still some signs that Bento still has a long way to go. Ricardo Costa, who was on the Portuguese squad this summer in Brazil, is included in this squad, despite being 33 and playing in the middle east.

One of the biggest exclusions of this squad was of Ronaldo. The Real Madrid and Portugal star will miss out against Albania, after it was discovered that he was not in sufficient physical condition to appear for the Seleccao. The team will surely miss the talented Ronaldo, but one would hope that other players can step up in his place, especially against a team like Albania.

Squad


Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Eduardo (Dinamo Zagreb), Rui Patrício (Sporting)

Defenders: André Almeida (Benfica), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), João Pereira (Valência), Pepe (Real Madrid), Neto (Zenit), Ricardo Costa (Al-Sailiya), Ruben Vezo (Valência), Antunes (Málaga)

Midfielders: Adrien (Sporting), André Gomes (Valência), João Moutinho (Mónaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Pedro Tiba (Braga), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahçe), William Carvalho (Sporting)

Forwards: Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Bruma (Galatasaray), Éder (Braga), Ivan Cavaleiro (Deportivo), Nani (Sporting), Ricardo Horta (Málaga)

Euro 2016 Qualifying Groups Drawn


Paulo BentoUEFA announced the other day the qualifying groups for Euro 2016. Portugal were drawn with Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, and Albania. Portugal will be wary of facing Denmark and Albania again, having had trouble with the two in previous qualifying campaigns.

It is worth noting that qualification for Euro 2016 will be much easier than in previous tournaments. Euro 2016 will be the first European championship where the number of participating teams is 24, having been expanded from 16 in 2012. This translates into the top two teams in each group qualifying directly, while the third-place in each group qualifies for a playoff.

Portugal faced Denmark in qualification for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. The Danes proved to be worthy opponents, topping the group each time, and forcing Portugal to qualify via the play-off. In the four times Portugal and Denmark met in the two qualifying phases, Denmark won 2, Portugal won 1, and the teams drew once. It is evident that Denmark is not a team to take lightly. Though their momentum has slowed as of late (the team failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup), Denmark still packs a punch.

Serbia is another team that has the potential to cause problems for Portugal in qualification. Combining proven stars like Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolorov, Nemanja Matic, and Adem Ljajic with up-and-coming talents such as Lazar Markovic, Milos Jojic, and Aleksandar Mitrovic, Serbia is also not a team to be taken lightly. The Serbia U-19 team was victorious last summer at the 2013 UEFA U-19 European Championships, and a few of the players from that tournament have made the move to the full national team. This mix of established, world-class stars and up-and-coming youngsters give Serbia an air of unpredictability. Though they have fallen short in recent qualification tournaments (the last tournament they qualified for was the 2010 World Cup), Serbia are a much different team now.

Armenia are somewhat of an unknown entity. Armenia is a small country of barely over three million inhabitants, bordered by Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The team has never qualified for a major tournament, and, frankly, has hardly ever come anywhere close to qualifying. That is, until the 2014 World Cup. Armenia was drawn with Italy, Czech Republic, Malta, Bulgaria, and Denmark. The team started off slowly, losing to Bulgaria, Italy, Czech Republic, and Malta, but absolutely stunned Denmark, winning 4-0 in Denmark. The team then managed to defeat Bulgaria and Czech Republic before rounding off their campaign with a 2-2 draw in Italy. Though Armenia didn’t come very close to qualifying, they turned some heads with their impressive performances against Denmark and Italy, two of Europe’s top sides.

Portugal last met Albania in 2010 World Cup qualification, and though the team did not offer much competition, the Seleccao still only managed two draws (including one last-gasp 2-2 draw to keep their qualification hopes alive). Portugal tend to play down to their opponents level, which is why the team has had problems with Albania in the past. If the Seleccao can manage to play well, Albania should be no match.

Portugal Roll Past Luxembourg


Nani and Varela - Portugal vs Luxembourg

Portugal 3-0 Luxembourg

2014 World Cup Qualification

Portugal clinched a play-off berth last week as they defeated Luxembourg 3-0. The Seleccao were clear favorites coming into the match, and played up to expectation. The flow of the match was in Portugal’s favor for the majority of the match, and the score could have easily been greater than 3-0. Portuguese goals came from Varela, Nani, and Helder Postiga, with Joao Moutinho the clear man-of-the-match.

The game started brightly for the Seleccao. Fabio Coentrao and Helder Postiga had resumed their places in the starting lineup, but it was Joao Moutinho and Nani who were the main instigators for Portugal. The first real chance of the game came in the 8th minute, when a fierce Nani shot was palmed directly into the path of Helder Postiga. The striker managed to get a shot off, only for the goalkeeper to save yet again. Soon after, Portugal came desperately close to opening the scoring. A magnificent ball from Andre Almeida (who kept his starting spot at right-back) found an unmarked Fabio Coentrao, whose header thundered back off the crossbar. On the 27 minute mark, however, Portugal’s job got much easier. A Luxembourg player went into a tackle on Andre Almeida studs-up, and was shown a straight red card. That was exactly the catalyst that Portugal needed. Just two minutes later, Joao Moutinho sent a beautiful defense-splitting pass into the path of Varela, who rounded the keeper and finished into the back of the net. And just minutes later, more Joao Moutinho magic added to the scoreline. Nani picked up the ball on the right hand side of the field, passed it to Moutinho, who promptly back-heeled the ball into the path of Nani. The winger made no mistake, drilling the ball into the top left hand corner of the goal. It was a goal of great beauty for Portugal; a goal that represents Moutinho’s importance in the team. That was how the first half ended: 2-0 in favor of Portugal.

The second half began without much incident. Ricardo Costa came off injured around the hour mark, and was replaced by Sereno, who made just his second appearance for the team. Ten minutes later, a corner kick from Josue (who made his debut) found the head of Nani, whose header was well saved by the opposition goalkeeper. Minutes later, a beautiful lofted ball from Josue was headed into the path of Helder Postiga, who made no mistake with his finish. That goal put Helder Postiga at number 6 in Portugal’s all-time goalscorers. Just minutes later, Portugal almost added further to the scoreline. A split ball put Andre Almeida free in the box. Almeida squared the ball perfectly to Hugo Almeida, who cannoned the ball onto the crossbar. It was a shocking miss, one that unfortunately has defined Hugo Almeida’s career with the Seleccao. That was how the game ended: 3-0 in favor of Portugal. Now, the team waits to hear who they will face in the play-off in November.

Rui Patricio, Andre Almeida, Fabio Coentrao(Antunes), Neto, Ricardo Costa(Sereno), Miguel Veloso(Hugo Almeida), Joao Moutinho, Josue, Nani, Varela, Helder Postiga

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Portugal Struggle to Draw


Portugal vs Israel - Josue, Nelson Oliveira, Ronaldo

Portugal 1-1 Israel

2014 World Cup Qualification

It was not a game to remember last Friday for the Portuguese National Team, as they could only muster a 1-1 draw at home against Israel. A first-half header from Ricardo Costa gave Portugal the lead. Though the majority of the match flow was in favor of Portugal, an unfortunate error by Rui Patricio allowed the visitors to equalize late in the second half. This was an unfortunate draw for the team; one that was not fully justified.

With Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves out injured, and Fabio Coentrao and Helder Postiga suspended, the Portuguese line-up was an unusual one. Patricio started in goal, while Antunes subbed in for the suspended Coentrao on the left of defense. On the right side of the defense was Andre Almeida, who surprisingly earned a start ahead of Cedric Soares, who had been tipped to start all during the week prior. In the center of defense was Ricardo Costa and Pepe. The Portuguese midfield was left largely unchanged, with Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho getting the start, while Ruben Micael took the place of the injured Meireles. The wings were also unchanged, with Ronaldo on the left and Nani on the right. Hugo Almeida started up top in place of the suspended Helder Postiga.

The game started well, with the Portuguese finding their flow very quickly. It took less than half an hour for the hosts to make the breakthrough. A searching ball from Antunes found Pepe at the back-post. The center defender side-footed the ball across the face of the goal, directly into the path of Ricardo Costa, whose head met the ball. The scores were open at 1-0, and Portugal did not look like going back. Interestingly enough, it was Ricardo Costa’s first goal for the Seleccao, even at the age of 32. The second half was more of the same: Portugal dominating, and Israel snatching at infrequent chances. Portugal continued to search for another goal to double their lead, and came close numerous times, but lady luck was not smiling kindly upon Portugal. Late in the match, just minutes before the end, an botched Rui Patricio clearance fell to the feet of an Israeli player, whose finish could not have been easier. With the scores now tied at 1-1, Portugal attacked menacingly, but could not muster up another goal. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, a disappointment for Portugal. One positive can be taken from this match, however. Porto midfielder Josue made his debut for the Seleccao and looked very lively after he was subbed on in the second-half. Andre Almeida also debuted for the team, and also looked very solid in defense.

Rui Patricio, Ricardo Costa, Pepe, Antunes, Andre Almeida, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso(Eder), Ruben Micael(Josue), Ronaldo, Nani, Hugo Almeida(Nelson Oliveira)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Hat-trick Hero Ronaldo Leads Portugal Past Northern Ireland


Ronaldo - Northern Ireland vs Portugal

 

Northern Ireland 2-4 Portugal

2014 World Cup Qualfication

It was a night to remember for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain started and scored three goals in a 4-2 come-from-behind win against Northern Ireland in 2014 World Cup qualification. Accused of under-performing for Portugal in the past, those criticisms are quickly being forgotten. This win keeps Portugal at the top of their qualification group, ahead of Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland, and Luxembourg (though they’ve played one more game).

The game started off as a relatively even affair between the two teams. Bento had named a familiar starting lineup, one that has worked for him in the past. The first goal came in the 21st minute. A corner kick was swung in by Joao Moutinho. The ball met the head of a Northern Ireland defender, who cleared the ball to the edge of the box. Bruno Alves was waiting, and promptly side-foot-volleyed the ball into the bottom right corner of the net to make the score 0-1 in Portugal’s favor. This was the first clear opportunity of the night, and the quality of play was encouraging. Vieirinha, who replaced the off-form Nani in the starting lineup, came close with a near-post shot after some impressive wing-play. Play soon fell in the favor of the hosts, who began pressing Portugal more and more. Northern Ireland was soon rewarded when an in-swinging corner kick was met by the head of Gareth McAuley. With the scores leveled,  Helder Postiga very stupidly picked up a red card just before half-time because of a failure to keep his temper in check. Both the teams went into the locker room level on the scoreboard, but Northern Ireland definitely had the run of play in their favor.

The second half started in the worst possible fashion for Portugal. Another corner kick from Northern Ireland caused confusion in the Portuguese box, allowing Jaime Ward to score his first international goal. It was not the start that Portugal had been hoping for, though it came as no surprise, given the events of the first half. Portugal began to press harder and harder after the goal, with Miguel Veloso most notably coming close with a long-range bullet. The equalizer came soon after Veloso’s effort. Moutinho swung in a corner kick, which was met by the head of Cristiano Ronaldo. The header was unstoppable, and the scores were now leveled at 2-2. The momentum was starting to shift, and Portugal began pushing even more, in search of a winning goal. That search only lasted about ten minutes. Fabio Coentrao picked up the ball deep on the left side, and sent an early, looping cross into the box. Ronaldo was there to head the ball in the net, making the score 3-2 in Portugal’s favor. The Selecaao (rather Ronaldo) weren’t done just yet. Winning a free kick on the edge of the box, Ronaldo struck the ball through the wall and into the Northern Irish net to make the score 4-2, and completing his first-ever hat-trick for Portugal.

Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles(Nani), Vieirinha(Nelson Oliveira), Ronaldo(Ruben Amorim), Helder Postiga

HIGHLIGHTS HERE