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

Portugal Crush Ireland: Selecao Not a One-Trick Pony


Ronaldo - Portugal vs Ireland 2014

Portugal 5-1 Ireland

International Friendly

Portugal finished their pre-World Cup tour of America in possibly the best fashion with a 5-1 demolition of Ireland at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Goals from Hugo Almeida (2), Fabio Coentrao, Vieirinha, and an Irish own goal contributed to the win. The wide winning margin was exactly what many speculated the team needed, after tepid performances against Greece and Mexico. The game saw Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, and Pepe all return to fitness after being out injured recently. And indeed our captain Ronaldo looked healthy and dangerous; exactly the two qualities the team needs from him most next week when Portugal kick off their World Cup campaign against Germany.

Portugal coach Paulo Bento returned to his favored 4-3-3 formation. Returning to his no.1 position in goal was Rui Patricio. In front of him were Ruben Amorim (who is adept at playing at right-back) and Fabio Coentrao on the wings. In the middle of defense was Neto and Ricardo Costa, who were presumably fill-ins for Bruno Alves and Pepe. In midfield, Bento chose William Carvalho, Raul Meireles, and Joao Moutinho, who will most likely be the starting trio that represent Portugal’s midfield next week. On the wings were a fit-again Ronaldo and Varela. They were joined up top by Hugo Almeida. Regulars Bruno Alves and Joao Pereira were given a rest for the match, but all signs are pointing toward them starting in the Seleccao’s first match against Germany next week.

The game started off brightly for the Portuguese. Within the first few minutes, the team was already 1-0 up. Great defensive work from Ruben Amorim released Varela on the right wing. The winger sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by the head of Hugo Almeida. After getting somewhat of a cushion in the form of that goal, Portugal seemed largely content with Ireland getting a hold on proceedings. But as is so common, Portugal attack against the run of play. Though Ireland was threatening, Portugal had a very good chance to double their advantage on the 13 minute mark. Some good work from Ronaldo opened room for a shot, which was parried by the Ireland goalkeeper. The rebound fell to Varela, who had the presence of mind to pick out the onrushing Raul Meireles. The midfielder’s fierce shot was well-saved, and the ball went behind for a corner kick. From the resulting kick, Hugo Almeida came within inches of doubling Portugal’s lead. From that point forward, it was largely one-way traffic. Ronaldo hit the post with another of his wonderful trademark free kicks minutes later, and it was the Real Madrid man who played a bit part in the second goal. A run forward from Coentrao was picked out by a wonderful back-heel pass from Ronaldo. The left-back crossed, and the ball took a fortunate deflection off Ireland defender Richard Keogh and looped into the back of the net. Portugal continued to press, and were rewarded once again fifteen minutes later. Varela sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by the head of Ronaldo. The star man’s header was pushed away by the Irish goalkeeper, but Hugo Almeida was there to apply the finishing touch. It was the team’s third, and Almeida’s second of the night. That proved to be the last clear-cut chance of the half. Both teams went into the locker room with Portugal leading convincingly 3-0.

As could be expected, Ireland caused Portugal headaches early in the second half. And the Irish were rewarded for their hard work just 6 minutes after the restart. A well-worked set piece set winger James McClean free on the right. A simple cut-in allowed him the space to fire home past Rui Patricio. Later in the second-half, as is typical in international friendlies, there was a mass substitution. Among the players to leave the field was Ronaldo, who had performed admirably though not fully fit. Nani replaced the Real Madrid forward and was at the heart of the rest of Portugal’s forays forward. Ireland continued to threaten, and seemed determined to improve upon the momentum from their goal. Portugal managed to hold them off, and counter struck in the 77th minute. A superb cross-field pass from Joao Moutinho was taken perfectly in stride by Nani, who was motoring down the left wing. The winger took his time, and picked out the run of Vieirinha perfectly. The Wolfsburg man’s header was well saved, but he made no mistake with the rebound, shooting past the Ireland goalkeeper to record his first goal for Portugal, and stretch the scoreline to an impressive 4-1. And it was Nani at the heart of Portugal’s final goal just a few minutes later. The winger picked up the ball on the left wing once again, and instead of pressing forward, stalled a bit, and picked out the on-rushing Fabio Coentrao. The Real Madrid defender poked the ball home impressively with his right toe, and just like that, Portugal were up 5-1. And soon after, Nani was once again at the heart of another Portuguese move, and possibly one of the most exciting of which all night. The winger picked up the ball on his favored left side, and made a mazing run, playing one-two pass after one-two pass with his teammates before laying the ball off to Joao Moutinho. Moutinho dinked through a wonderful split ball to Vieirinha, whose square pass was back-heeled into the net by Nani. Alas, the wonderful move was correctly adjudged to be offside, but the point was clear. Portugal can be a mesmerizingly wonderful team.

Click here to see the chance.

Much of the talk lately surrounding Portugal has been over the fitness of star man Cristiano Ronaldo. The buzz is warranted. Ronaldo won World Player of the Year for 2013, and is fresh off winning the Champions League with Real Madrid. His performances for Portugal under Paulo Bento have been nothing short of spectacular, recently surpassing Pauleta as Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He is undoubtedly an important piece to the puzzle. But he is not the puzzle. Yes, he is the best player in the world. Yes he has the ability to change games; to improve the quality of  play; to make a difference. But pundits under-emphasize the importance of the team around him. Portugal, as a collective, is one of the most complete sides in the world currently. The team that Portugal will likely field against Germany is almost identical to the one that was named when we faced Germany at Euro 2012. The team has played together for years now, and is well-versed in the formation and tactics that Paulo Bento uses. But Portugal is not stagnant. The team has a good mix of youth and experience. Players such as Rafa and William Carvalho are wild-cards. Having not been in the international spotlight for their talent can be an asset for Portugal. Other teams won’t exactly know how to handle Rafa at full speed or William Carvalho at full-stretch. I think for people to label Portugal as a one-trick pony, and the trick to be Ronaldo, is a mistake. There is much more to a team than one man. This game highlighted this point well. Ronaldo was involved directly in two of the goals (the second and third), but Varela carved out a chance for the first goal. Nani made the chances for the other two goals. A no-Ronaldo Portugal is still capable of playing beautiful, flowing football. Ronaldo is important, but just as important are the collective around him.

Rui Patricio, Ruben Amorim(Miguel Veloso), Neto(Pepe), Ricardo Costa, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho, Raul Meireles(Andre Almeida), Ronaldo(Nani), Varela(Vieirinha), Hugo Almeida(Helder Postiga)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Portugal Edge Mexico in Even Encounter: More Questions than Answers


Andre Almeida - Portugal vs Mexico 2014

Mexico 0-1 Portugal

International Friendly

A last minute goal from Bruno Alves was the only thing that separated Mexico and Portugal, as the two teams faced off in Foxborough, Massachusetts for a pre-World Cup friendly match. Indeed, the two teams were very evenly matched and while each team had chances to break the deadlock, it was a clever set piece and a spectacular header that pushed Portugal ahead of the Mexicans. This was Mexico’s last friendly before departing for Brazil, while Portugal will face Ireland next Tuesday before heading to South America.

The Greece game last week was a good challenge because the team’s defense is of similar strength to that of Germany, who Portugal will face in the group stage. While the Greeks were deft at defense, their attacking prowess was not nearly as pronounced. Consequently, the Portuguese team got a good test in attacking, but not nearly as much so in defending. Mexico was different. Known as being competent at both attack and defense, the Mexicans posed a much more complete challenge for the Portuguese. As a result, the game was a very close one, and with a little bit of luck, the Mexicans could have easily gotten a result against what was a very flat Portuguese side.

The Portuguese were without Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, and Pepe due to injury, which meant that the team that was named by Paulo Bento was surely not the one we will see against Germany on the 16th. While Bento did experiment, he only did so with his team selection-not the formation. In the Seleccao’s previous game against Greece, Bento started the team in a 4-4-2 formation-one that Portugal is not accustomed to. This time out, Portugal started in their familiar 4-3-3, which is much more suited to Portugal’s counter-attacking style of play. Eduardo was started in goal in place of Rui Patricio. This was likely not a signal that Portugal’s no.1 will change, but likely simply to give Eduardo some game time to try to determine if he is suited for the no.2 role. The backline was a familiar one, with regulars Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao on the wings. Bruno Alves and Neto started in the middle of defense, with the latter temporarily taking the place of the injured Pepe. In midfield were Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Andre Almeida. Almeida likely took the spot of Raul Meireles, who is out injured. Almeida’s inclusion in the starting lineup comes as a surprise, as his primary position in the national team of late has been at left-back. It seems that Paulo Bento had some more experimenting to get out of his system, and used this friendly match to determine the extent of Andre Almeida’s versatility. On the wings were Nani and Vieirinha, the latter of which replacing Ronaldo. Up top was Eder, which may be a signal that Bento is ready to replace Helder Postiga in the striker position with the Braga forward.

The beginning of the match was a fairly even affair, with both teams failing to create any clear-cut chances. The first chance of note came in the 21st minute, when Eder’s diagonal run met Fabio Coentrao’s pass. The big man managed to hold off the Mexican defender who was marking him, but only saw his left-footed shot palmed away by the Mexican goalkeeper. From that point forward, it was primarily Mexico who controlled proceedings, with winger Andres Guardado reeking havoc in particular. Despite a spell of dominance, the Mexicans failed to capitalize, leaving both teams square at the interval.  The second half was more of the same. Portugal showed flashes of competence and Mexico showed more will to win. Some solid saves from Eduardo and profligacy in front of goal for Mexico meant that the two teams were still tied 0-0 going into the final minute of stoppage time. Marco Fabian was adjudged to have fouled Helder Postiga, and the Portuguese were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Joao Moutinho stepped up, and swung in a perfectly weighted ball, which met the head perfectly of the on-rushing (and unmarked) Bruno Alves. His header thundered into the net, and was immediately drowned out by the Portuguese fans, who went mental. Sure. The Portuguese probably didn’t deserve to win…but there’s nothing better than a last-minute goal.

There are many questions surrounding the Seleccao right now. Many teams schedule friendlies to help the team gel and to answer questions about the team before a major tournament. The purpose is to answer questions. Not to raise more questions. While Portugal did not play spectacularly by any estimation, their performance was markedly half-hearted. At times, they were blatantly outplayed by a Mexican team who was surprisingly well-organized. Currently, Portugal is ranked 4th in the FIFA World Rankings, while Mexico is farther down the list at 20th. Though the FIFA rankings have their inaccuracies, they are still a relatively good gauge as to the skill of teams. Portugal should have recorded a much more comfortable result over Mexico. There are other factors that come in to play also. Players are not keen on getting injured before the World Cup, and with recent news of injuries to stars such as Germany’s Marco Reus and Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo, players are especially on alert. So, caution could have been a part of Portugal’s play last night, but as the game wore on, caution looked to play less of a role as players lunged into tackles. Portugal simply looked outplayed, which is disconcerting.

How are teams to gel if they are missing key players. A starting eleven needs to be established so that those 11 players can get experience playing with each other; experience that helps them learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses. With Ronaldo, Meireles, and Pepe all out of the side for Portugal’s first two friendly games (Greece and last night against Mexico), this Portuguese team is at a huge disadvantage. Paulo Bento is a great coach, which he showed at Euro 2012, but he needs to have a healthy team to work with. Ronaldo and Raul Meireles are only just getting back to full fitness, and will (optimistically) only participate in one friendly match before the World Cup starts and Portugal has to face the second best team in the world, Germany. Bento needs to pull out all the stops against Ireland on Tuesday if the team has any hope of preparing for Germany.

Eduardo, Joao Pereira(Ruben Amorim), Neto, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Rafa), Andre Almeida, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Nani, Vieirinha(Varela), Eder(Helder Postiga)

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Paulo Bento Names 23 for World Cup Squad


Paulo Bento

Paulo Bento announced yesterday a list of 23 players that will represent Portugal at this summer’s World Cup. Seven players who were included in last week’s 30-man squad announcement were dropped. Some exclusions were predictable. Some not. Let’s look closer.


 

Final Squad

Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Rui Patricio (Sporting), Eduardo (Braga)

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Pepe (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Neto (Zenit), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Andre Almeida (Benfica)

Midfielders: Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), Rafa (Braga), William Carvalho (Sporting)

Forwards: Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Eder (Braga), Varela (Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg)

 

Standby players (dropped players): Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Rolando (Inter), Vitorino Antunes (Malaga), Quaresma (Porto), Andre Gomes (Benfica), Joao Mario (Vitoria Setubal), Ivan Cavaleiro (Benfica)


 

Statistics

(2014, 2010, 2006)

Average Age of Squad: 28 years old, 27.8 years old, 27.9 years old

Average Caps of Squad: 35.9 caps, 27 caps, 34.5 caps

Number of Players from Liga Zon Sagres: 7, 10, 8

Number of Players from Premier League: 1, 3, 6

Number of Players from La Liga: 6, 6, 2

Number of Players from Serie A: 1, 0, 1

Number of Players from Ligue 1: 1, 1, 2


 

Analysis

Goalkeepers:

The inclusion of Rui Patricio and Beto are completely warranted. Few can argue that both Patricio and Beto are two of Portugal’s most in-form goalkeepers at the moment. Beto is coming off a successful season that saw him win the Europa League with Sevilla (and saving two penalties in the shoot-out in the final). Rui Patricio is already established as Portugal’s no.1, and his performances for Sporting Lisbon did nothing to hurt that this season, leading the Lisbon-based team to a second-placed finish in the Liga.

The last goalkeeper spot was between Anthony Lopes and Eduardo. While Anthony Lopes enjoyed a decent debut season for Lyon, establishing himself as the team’s starting goalkeeper, Eduardo has World Cup experience. During the previous World Cup, Eduardo was Portugal’s starting goalkeeper, and lest we remind you that his performances at the last World Cup earned him a move abroad to Genoa. While Anthony Lopes has an extremely bright future, and his performances this season may merit inclusion, the decision to choose Eduardo over him is one that I understand and agree with.

Defenders:

Bruno Alves, Pepe, Joao Pereira, and Fabio Coentrao are all staples in the Portuguese team. Pepe and Bruno Alves have flourished at Real Madrid and Fenerbahce, respectively. Alves played in 25 league games, helping Fenerbahce to their first Turkish League title since 2011. Though Real Madrid didn’t manage to win the title this season, Pepe performed admirably in 30 league games, firmly establishing himself as a starter. While Fabio Coentrao didn’t receive as much playing time as he may have liked, he did perform well when he did manage to get a game. According to WhoScored.com, Coentrao managed a 6.96 match rating in the 15 games he participated in in all competitions. While this is nothing spectacular, it shows that Coentrao has the ability to play at the top level, an ability he has shown time and time again while donning the Portugal jersey. His inclusion is a no-brainer. Joao Pereira is another player whose previous performances for the Seleccao merit an automatic call. Currently playing at Valencia, Pereira managed 25 league appearances, as the team only finished 8th in La Liga.

Ricardo Costa has proven himself in a Portugal shirt in the past, and though he 33 years old, he is still an important part of both Valencia and the Seleccao. This was an interesting decision from Bento. Rolando, who spent this past season on loan at Inter from Porto, performed admirably in the Serie A. Some would argue that this season was his finest of his career to date. An outcast at Porto, Rolando managed 29 appearances at Inter, a team many would argue are among the best in Europe. I think the issue of experience is the factor at play here. This World Cup will be Ricardo Costa’s third, while if Rolando was included, it would be his second. Costa also played more of a part in qualifying, most notably scoring in the team’s 1-1 draw with Israel. Moving to Russia, Luis Neto enjoyed a wonderful sophomore year at Zenit. Though the team were pipped by CSKA Moscow for the Russian Premier League title, Zenit performed well this season, and Neto was at the heart of the team’s defense, completing the season with 25 league appearances. The inclusion of Andre Almeida was an interesting one, but one that makes sense once thought about. Many have clamored for Cedric Soares, of Sporting Lisbon, to be called, and for good reason. Cedric impressed for the Portugal U-20 team as they finished runners-up to Brazil at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, then for Academica on loan from Sporting, then the Portugal U-21 team, and finally Sporting’s first team. This season, Cedric was the undisputed starter at right-back for Sporting, amassing 28 league appearances in the process. Andre Almeida, on the other hand, only managed 10 appearances in the league for Benfica. Why should Almeida be included over Cedric you may ask? This is why. Andre Almeida began his career in midfield, but has been transformed into a solid right-back. Also capable of filling in at left-back, Almeida has extreme versatility. By calling up Almeida, Bento essentially did not need to call up another left-back, due to Almeida’s versatility. This meant that there were more spots open for other attackers. Also, Almeida participated in three finals (two domestic Portuguese cups, one Europa League final). In addition to this, Almeida was a part of a title-winning team in Benfica. Cedric, while he performed magnificently for a Sporting team which managed a second-place finish, is simply not the best choice. There will come a time for Cedric, but this World Cup is not it.

Midfielders:

The core of Portugal’s midfield in Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Raul Meireles are all obvious choices, though some not quite as obvious as in the past. Joao Moutinho has established himself as one of the finest box-to-box midfielders plying his trade in Europe at the moment. His performances for Monaco further proved it this season. Helping Monaco to a second-place finish in Ligue 1 this season, Moutinho made 31 league appearances in the process. His performances for the Seleccao have been nothing short of wonderful lately, and many are looking to Moutinho to continue making the Portuguese midfield “tick” at this summer’s finals. Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso have lost a considerable amount of stock lately. Though they have both put in performances ranging from solid to spectacular for Portugal in recent years, their performances have begun to noticeably decline.  While Raul Meireles helped Fenerbahce win the Turkish League this season, Miguel Veloso only managed 20 league appearances, as Dynamo Kiev finished a disappointing 4th in the Ukrainian League. Even though Veloso and Meireles are noticeably on the decline, their spot is a certainty, due to prior performances. Even if they do not start, they offer a great deal of experience off the bench. William Carvalho, though he’s only appeared twice for the Seleccao, is another obvious inclusion. Carvalho’s performances this season for Sporting Lisbon have been nothing short of astounding. A virtual unknown before the start of the season, William Carvalho is now the subject of transfer speculation, most notably from Manchester United, who allegedly have a 37 million pound transfer in the works. And it’s no wonder. Carvalho won four of nine Liga Zon Sagres Player of the Month awards and six of nine Liga Zon Sagres Young Player of the Month awards. Many are clamoring for Carvalho to take Miguel Veloso’s spot in Portugal’s starting eleven as the midfield’s anchor. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.

Rafa is a slightly surprising inclusion to the team. An extremely attack-minded midfielder, Rafa made the move from Feirense to Braga at the beginning of the season, and has absolutely flourished in Braga. Teams such as Roma and Southampton are hot on his tails, and for good reason. Though Braga’s season went south very quickly, Rafa’s performances were certainly not a disappointment. The midfielder’s inclusion naturally comes at the expense of another. Josue made a highly-anticipated move from Pacos Ferreira to Porto at the beginning of the season. A regular under Porto coach Paulo Fonseca, Josue has found playing time and form very hard to come by since Fonseca was sacked. Many view Josue to be the successor to Raul Meireles in Portugal’s midfield, but it appears that that definitely won’t occur during this World Cup. Bento’s final midfield inclusion is perplexing for most: Ruben Amorim over Adrien Silva. Adrien Silva has established himself as one of the finest midfielders in Portugal at the moment, and some would argue he’s one of Portugal’s finest midfielders. Silva is in a similar position to Cedric. Silva was an integral part of Sporting’s team which finished second in the league this season, and many are rightly perplexed by his omission from the squad. Adrien is yet to make an appearance for the Seleccao, while Ruben Amorim has managed 10 appearances thus far in his career. Though Amorim is older, he has more experience on the national level for Portugal, while Adrien has none whatsoever. Amorim, like Andre Almeida, is a much more versatile player than Adrien. Amorim can fill in at right-back aptly, and can also fit in anywhere in the midfield. Ruben Amorim was also part of a team which won the domestic treble, and also participated in the Europa League final. Though he only made 17 league appearances this season, Amorim gained priceless experience at Benfica. This is not to say Adrien deserved to be included; just that Amorim is perhaps a bit better qualified. Adrien Silva will certainly have his time after the World Cup. Not to forget anyone, Andre Gomes and Joao Mario are both very talented players with bright futures ahead of them, but with all respect to Paulo Bento, their inclusion in the 30-man provisional list is laughable.

Forwards:

Ronaldo is really the only staple in Portugal’s forward line. The forward has enjoyed yet another wonderful season, scoring 31 goals in 30 games for Real Madrid, a statistic that normally is otherworldly. But for Ronaldo, it’s just another season. Nani, Hugo Almeida, and Helder Postiga are all favorites of Paulo Bento, and though none have enjoyed fruitful seasons respectively, they still have the ability to offer something for the Seleccao. Nani’s season at Manchester United was a mix of injury and lack of form, combining into a horrendous season, even worse than the rest of Manchester United’s season. Hugo Almeida enjoyed a decent season at Besiktas, managing to put the ball in the back of the net 13 times in 31 appearances. Helder Postiga’s season was not quite as fruitful as Almieda’s, but not as disastrous as Nani’s. After moving from Zaragoza to Valencia in the off-season, Postiga established himself as Valencia’s starting striker following the sale of Soldado to Tottenham. Only scoring three goals, most notably scoring two against Barcelona, Postiga was sent on loan to Lazio, where he has struggled with injury, and has only managed five appearances with no goals. Moving to the wing position, Varela has enjoyed another successful season at Porto. The winger amassed 48 appearances in all competitions, as Porto finished third in the league behind Benfica and Sporting. Few can forget Varela’s wonder-strike in Portugal’s group stage game against Denmark at Euro 2012. His goal gifted Portugal the victory, and many will hope that similar super-sub feats can be achieved by him this summer in Brazil. The final winger included in the squad is Wolfsburg’s Vieirinha. After starting the season promisingly, Vieirinha suffered an injury that has kept out until last month. Now fully recovered, Vieirinha  managed a handful of appearances for Wolfsburg before the season ended. The final striker spot on the call goes to Eder, of Braga. After enjoying a wonderful season for Braga last season, Eder could not manage to replicate his form this season. Only scoring three goals this season, Eder never fully recovered from a loss of form due to injury. Can he find his form this summer? He might have to if/when Almeida and Postiga don’t perform. Can you sense my cynicism?

Portugal Fall to Mighty Brazil


Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso - Portugal vs Brazil

Portugal 1-3 Brazil

International Friendly

Neymar and co. just proved to be too much for Portugal, as the Seleccao succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Brazil in a friendly played in the United States last week. Goals from Neymar, Jo, and Thiago Silva guaranteed the win for Brazil, while Raul Meireles was the lone scorer for Portugal.

Portugal’s starting lineup was largely unchanged from their 4-2 victory over Northern Ireland just four days earlier. Nani came into the lineup to replace the injured Ronaldo, while Nelson Oliveira started over Helder Postiga. Other than that, the lineup was unchanged, with many hoping that the team can gel ahead of the 2014 World Cup next summer.

The match started predictably, with Neymar at the heart of the match’s chances and controversy. The first of which occurred just before the 10 minute mark, when the winger pushed Pepe into the onrushing Rui Patricio while battling for a long ball. It proved to be a deliberate foul, and the Brazilian star was shown a yellow card.  Just minutes later, Portugal came within inches of breaking the deadlock. An inviting cross was sent in by Vieirinha directly into the path of Raul Meireles, whose header struck the base of the upright. It was a let-off for the Portuguese, whose play had at least matched the Brazilians during the opening period. Portugal was rewarded soon after, however. A blocked Miguel Veloso shot was headed down lackadaisically by a Brazilian defender. Raul Meireles was lurking, and reached the ball before the Brazilian goalkeeper, side-footing the ball into the net. The goal seemed to wake Brazil up, and not very long afterward, the South Americans tied up the game. Thiago Silva headed in a cross from a corner kick to make the score 1-1. Though Portugal came close again through Nani, the momentum of the match was shifting in Brazil’s favor. At the heart of this shift was Neymar. It was the winger who scored next, leaving the Portuguese defense reeling. Embarking on a mazing run, Neymar sped past half-a-dozen Portuguese players before slotting the ball past Rui Patricio to make the score 2-1 in Brazil’s favor. Portugal were lucky to not concede further minutes later, after Bernard missed a sitter in the box. The half-time whistle likely was a melodious sound for the Seleccao, as it allowed for temporary relief from Brazil’s barrage. Both teams went into the locker room with the score at 2-1 Brazil.

As is to be expected with friendly matches, the second half was a much less lively affair. Soon after the break, however, Brazil did manage to further their score, with Jo tapping the ball into the net after good wing play. The only other event of note in the second half was the entrance of Lica into the Portugal setup, with the winger officially making his debut for the National team, after a stellar season for Estoril last term, and a promising start to this season at Porto. Also entering the fray (again) was Antunes, who last appeared for Portugal in 2009. Antunes revival has largely been due to a successful period last season at Pacos Ferreira, which earned him a move to Malaga, where he has held down a starting spot.

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

HIGHLIGHTS HERE

Bento’s Old Guard on the Way Out


Paulo Bento

Paulo Bento – changing his ways

One of the chief criticisms of Portugal National Team boss Paulo Bento has been on his over-reliance on established players over new, up-and-coming talent. Bento would consistently pick the same players game after game, sometimes regardless of their club performances, while overlooking in-form younger players. Though the team has been wildly successful as compared to his predecessor, Carlos Queiroz’s, campaign, supporters of the team still find his player selection frustrating. This may all be changing, however.

Jose and Lica - Players for the future?

Josue and Lica – Players for the future?

For the games against Northern Ireland and Brazil later this week and next week, respectively, there appears to be a shift in the norm. Bento has begun calling up a new generation of players, an easy decision given the circumstances. In the 23 selected, there are four who have never made an appearance for the Seleccao, and a further five who have less than 10 caps. Players such as Lica and Josue (who have been stellar for Porto so far this season), Adrien and Andre Martins (who have been equally impressive for a new-look Sporting team), and Anthony Lopes, Antunes, and Neto (who are all starters in the top flights of France, Spain, and Russia, respectively) are all new to the team, and could very easily be important players by the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around.

Luis Neto - Portugal vs RussiaA prime example of the shift from the old to the new is Luis Neto. After a stellar 2010-2011 season at second-division Varzim, Neto was snapped up by Nacional, in the Portuguese top flight. At Nacional, the central defender blossomed, instantly becoming the club’s most important player. His performances certainly did not go unnoticed, and Neto was transferred to Serie A club Siena for the 2012-2013 season. His performances for the struggling Siena were impressive enough that, after just over half-a-season later, he was transferred to Russian powerhouse Zenit St. Petersburg. At Zenit, he joined fellow compatriots Danny and Bruno Alves. Neto was almost immediately thrown into the starting lineup, and has since excelled. Only aged 25, Neto has established himself as a player on the rise in the world of football. The momentum has propelled him into national team action. As stated above, his performances had not gone unnoticed, and Paulo Bento surely noticed. Soon after his move to Zenit, Neto made his debut for the Seleccao, in a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Ecuador. It is widely understood that Neto will be the successor to Bruno Alves for the Seleccao. While the career of Alves, currently 31, is not over, he is most certainly in decline.

Adrien Silva - Sporting

Adrien

Though the perception of Paulo Bento is that his team selections are unfair and full of bias, that may all be changing. With the inclusions in this squad of four previously uncapped players in Lica, Josue, Anthony Lopes, and Adrien Silva, the momentum appears to be shifting. This is a natural process, and one that Portugal needs to accomplish if it has any hope of being competitive in the future.

Who Will Make the Cut for Gabon Friendly?


The Portuguese National Team is scheduled to meet Gabon a little less that two weeks from now, and after a string of sub-par performances, they will be looking for a resounding win. International friendlies are often used to try out new players to the national team setup, but experimentation must be used in moderation. Paulo Bento surely knows this better than anyone at the moment. If he experiments too much, he risks the chance that the team may under-perform  If he doesn’t experiment enough, he will be accused of failing to change a team that isn’t getting results. In other words, Bento must find the right balance for the team. Let’s take a look at who may make the cut.

Goalkeepers

The goalkeeper situation is surely one that Bento won’t lose sleep over. With Beto (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting), and Eduardo (Istanbul BB) all regulars for their respective clubs, he can easily justify their inclusion. In fact, all three are enjoying wonderful seasons. Rui Patricio’s heroics have ensured that Sporting isn’t having an even worse season, while Beto has sparkled for Braga, both in the Champions League, and also the Liga Zon Sagres, where the team sits just behind Benfica and Porto, in third. Even Eduardo, who hasn’t had an easy time lately, is playing well for Istanbul BB, currently at 12th place in the Turkish league.

The main other contender is Mario Felgueiras, who has been in scintillating form for Romanian outfit CFR Cluj this season, namely in the Champions League. Felgueiras joined the Romanian team from Braga after an extremely successful loan to Brasov last season, and at only 25, Felgueiras still has much of his career ahead of him, as opposed to Eduardo and Beto, who are both 30.

Bento, however, will likely call only two goalkeepers for this friendly, as it is not sensible to have one goalkeeper sit the bench for no reason. Rui Patricio is a shoo-in, with the other spot up for grabs between Beto, Eduardo, and Mario Felgueiras.

Prediction: Rui Patricio, Beto

Defenders

On the contrary, picking defenders will be much more of a labored task for Bento. Pepe (Real Madrid) and Bruno Alves (Zenit) have been the foundation for the Seleccao defense ever since Ricardo Carvalho stormed out, and have generally impressed. Because Bento is not really one for experimentation, those two look certain picks. Elsewhere in the center of defense may be Sereno (Valladolid), Neto (Siena), Nuno Andre Coelho (Braga), Rolando (Porto), or Jose Fonte (Southampton). Sereno and Neto are starters for their respective clubs, and have accordingly been called to the Seleccao for some previous games, but have not made their debuts. Due to an injury to Douglao, Nuno Andre Coelho is getting a chance to shine at Braga, and much the same as Sereno and Neto, has yet to earn his first cap, despite having been called before. Rolando and Jose Fonte are not enjoying good seasons, however, but for different reasons. Rolando is not a starter for Porto anymore after the emergence of the Otamendi-Maicon partnership. For Jose Fonte, however, holding down a starting spot is the least of his worries. His defense at Southampton is the worst in the Premier League this season, having already let in 26 goals, only 9 games in. Nevertheless, he is playing at a more competitive stage than both Rolando and Nuno Andre Coelho, so a call may not be out of the question.

On the wings of defense, it seems Portugal has almost an embarrassment of riches. The obvious choices are Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid) on the left and Joao Pereira (Valencia) on the right. Though neither of their respective seasons have been strong, they are still definite picks, though Fabio Coentrao is injured, and thus ineligible for selection. The last spot must be picked from Miguel Lopes (Porto), Eliseu (Malaga), Nelson (Real Betis), and possibly even Cedric (Sporting). Eliseu is currently in the form of his career for Malaga, both in the Champions League and La Liga, while Nelson is also having a good time of it in La Liga for Real Betis. Miguel Lopes is seeing intermittent playing time for Porto this season, while Cedric has established himself as a starting right-back for Sporting.

Prediction: Pepe, Bruno Alves, Neto, Nuno Andre Coelho, Miguel Lopes, Joao Pereira, Eliseu

Midfield

Bento will likely be pulling out his hair when he begins to choose the midfield. Joao Moutinho (Porto) and Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev) both are obvious choices. They have enjoyed successful starts to the season in their respective leagues, but success has also come in the Champions League. Whereas Moutinho and Veloso are obvious choices, Raul Meireles (Fenderbahce), Custodio (Braga), Ruben Micael (Braga), and Hugo Viana (Braga) aren’t as much. While Ruben Micael, Custodio, and Hugo Viana are both enjoying wonderful seasons for Braga, and Raul Meireles is enjoying a good start to life in Turkey at Fenerbahce, none are guaranteed call-ups.

Three other midfielders who may earn the call are Manuel Fernandes (Besiktas), Carlos Martins (Benfica), and Ruben Amorim (Braga). Manuel Fernandes has established himself as one of the finest midfielders in the Turkish league at the moment, while Ruben Amorim is becoming an integral part of the successful Braga team this season. Carlos Martins, however, is not having a good season at Benfica. He has hardly seen any playing time, and a call-up may only happen on the basis that he has been with the Seleccao for some time now. Also, Danny (Zenit) has recovered from his injury, and though he is out of match practice, a call-up is certainly not out of the question. Paulo Machado (Olympiakos) has enjoyed a good start to life in Greece, and is currently impressing in the Champions League.

Prediction: Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Ruben Micael, Hugo Viana, Custodio, Manuel Fernandes

Forwards

The striker position is one that arguably needs the most tinkering out of all other positions. Though Helder Postiga’s (Zaragoza) scoring rate for the Seleccao has been impressive, he has been accused (rightfully so) of missing crucial opportunities. Hugo Almeida (Besiktas) is considered even more of a culprit, so much that he wasn’t even called on for the Seleccao’s previous selection. Both strikers, however, have been in good form for their respective clubs so far this season, so a call-up would be merited, but possibly not a starting spot. Eder (Braga), Nelson Oliveira (Deportivo), and Nuno Gomes (Blackburn Rovers) have all been in varying degrees of form for their respective clubs, and a call-up is possible for any of them also. Eder’s inclusion in the squad is almost a definite. The striker has risen to prominence this season after his performances for Braga in the Liga Zon Sagres and the Champions League. He is currently the Liga Zon Sagres top scorer with six goals (in five games), and a starting spot is probable. Nelson Oliveira is certainly a star for the future, and his performances for Deportivo at the beginning of the season were promising, but he has since failed to live up to the hype. That having been said, a call-up is certainly not out of the question. While Nelson Oliveira is just beginning his career, Nuno Gomes is at the end of his. Gomes made a surprise move to England this summer to join up with second-tier side Blackburn Rovers. He has since shown that he still has the killer instinct in front of goal after scoring four so far this season. Due to his age, and the other striking options, a call-up is unlikely, but still possible.

One of Portugal’s strongest positions is on the wing. Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Nani (Manchester United), Varela (Porto), and Pizzi (Deportivo) are shoo-ins to make the squad. Ronaldo has enjoyed a wonderful season to date, and being our captain and a former world player of the year, his inclusion is a no-brainer. Nani, on the other hand, is not having a wonderful season. The winger has been in and out of the team at Manchester United, and a recent row with coach Sir Alex Ferguson has all but ensured his departure this January. That having been said, his skill is undeniable, and a spot in the team is practically guaranteed. Varela has been in great form this season for Porto, having won the starting wing spot back after the departure of Hulk to Zenit, and a call-up is likely. Another player in great form is Pizzi, who is playing at Deportivo, currently on loan from Atletico Madrid. The winger has established himself as one of the most vital parts of the team at Deportivo, with his double against Barcelona proving just that. Though he hasn’t made his debut for the Seleccao yet, it surely isn’t that far away.

Other wingers that may make the grade are Bruno Gama (Deportivo), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), and Salvador Agra (Real Betis). All three have been in and out of their respective teams, but all possess undeniable talent.

Prediction: Nelson Oliveira, Eder, Helder Postiga, Pizzi, Ronaldo, Nani, Varela

Full Predicted Squad

Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio, Beto

Defenders: Pepe, Bruno Alves, Neto, Nuno Andre Coelho, Miguel Lopes, Joao Pereira, Eliseu

Midfielders: Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Ruben Micael, Hugo Viana, Custodio, Manuel Fernandes

Forwards: Nelson Oliveira, Eder, Helder Postiga, Pizzi, Ronaldo, Nani, Varela

 

*Ricardo (Academica), Ruben Ferreira (Maritimo), and Nuno Andre Coelho (Braga) have been pre-selected, but are not necessarily guaranteed a spot in the final squad.

Nelson Called to Replace Coentrao


Paulo Bento has called up Nelson to replace the injured Fabio Coentrao for the team’s upcoming match against Northern Ireland. Coentrao hobbled off the pitch during Portugal’s last game against Russia, and it appears that the defender will not recover in time for the game this week. Called to replace Coentrao and to give the Seleccao cover in the right/left back spots is Nelson, currently playing for Real Betis. Also dropped is Raul Meireles, who also cannot shake off his injury. No replacement will be called for Meireles.

Russia Edge Portugal


Russia 1-0 Portugal

A first half goal from Aleksandr Kerzhakov was enough for Russia to earn a narrow 1-0 victory over a sub-par Portuguese side. This win ensured that Russia remains undefeated in Group F, and as a result of the loss, Portugal slips into second in the group.

There was an air of uncertainty surrounding Portugal prior to the start of the match, due to the questionable fitness of Raul Meireles, Pepe, and Ronaldo. Pepe and Ronaldo were able to shake of their minor injuries to start the match, but Raul Meireles was not as lucky. The starting lineup was the usual one, with Patricio in goal, Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao on the defensive flanks, and Pepe and Bruno Alves paired up in the center of the defense. Due to his injury, Raul Meireles was relegated to the bench, with Ruben Micael sliding in to replace him. Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho joined Micael to complete the midfield. Up top was Nani, Ronaldo, and Helder Postiga, the usual suspects.

The game started well for Portugal, but very quickly turned sour when Russia scored on virtually their first attack. A quick counterattack caught Portugal off guard, and Russia made the score 1-0. From that point on, Portugal’s game-plan was that of catch-up, while Russia seemed, for the most part, to be content with expertly absorbing the Portuguese attacks. Ronaldo and Bruno Alves underlined Portugal’s intent by drawing two stellar saves out of the Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, but Russia’s defense was prepared for everything the Seleccao threw at them. Portugal looked sharp, however, and an equalizer did not look too unlikely. Fabio Coentrao hobbled off injured after just 20 minutes of play, weakening Portugal’s attack. The half ended at 1-0, with Portugal wondering how they had not yet scored.

Russia came out in the second half raring to go, while Portugal surprisingly looked off the pace and lethargic. One would think that after Portugal fell behind, they would come out of the gates ready to go, but that was not the case. The second half was decidedly a Russia affair, with only sharp saves from Rui Patricio saving Portugal’s blushes. Even the inclusion of Silvestre Varela (lately dubbed at Portugal’s supersub) and Eder (has scored four goals this season for Braga) could not turn the tides.

Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Miguel Lopes), Ruben Micael(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Ronaldo, Nani, Helder Postiga(Eder)

Man of the Match: Bruno Alves

Flop of the Match: Helder Postiga

PortuGoal Player Ratings

Highlights Here

Portugal Dominate in Azerbaijan Encounter


Portugal 3-0 Azerbaijan

A dominant display from the Portuguese National Team led them to a 3-0 victory over a lowly Azerbaijan side. The hosts showed much of the attacking prowess that they lacked against Luxembourg, and were unlucky that the scoreline was not higher in their favor. The team struck the crossbar an astonishing five times, as they ruthlessly attacked the Azerbaijani goal.

The game started brightly, which could not have been said about last week’s game against Luxembourg. Portugal were fully in the driving seat against Azerbaijan, and almost all of the action came from the home side. Joao Pereira and Raul Meireles both had efforts beaten away by the opposition goalkeeper in the opening exchanges between the two teams, before Helder Postiga almost finished off a wonderful team move, only to be denied by the crossbar. Joao Moutinho would then feel unlucky to see two excellent shots not translate into a goal, when one was saved by the keeper and the other thundered back off the crossbar. Portugal would continue to press, with Raul Meireles and Helder Postiga both coming close (the latter of which hit the crossbar). The half ended with the scores still even at 0-0 and Portugal wondering how they were not yet winning.

The second half started much the same as the first. It was evident that Portugal was hungry for a goal, and their play reflected that. Bruno Alves had a header saved soon after the restart, and Ronaldo went close soon after that on three different occasions. The goal was not far off, however. Silvestre Varela was substituted on for Miguel Veloso just after the hour mark, and the substitute made an immediate impact. Some sloppy defending from Azerbaijan opened up a golden opportunity for Varela, who calmly slotted the ball home for his third international goal. That goal did not cause Portugal to slow their attack, however. The Seleccao continued to press, but were constantly thwarted by either the post or the Azerbaijani goalkeeper. The second goal duly arrived a little more than twenty minutes after the first one. A pinpoint cross from Raul Meireles found Ronaldo, whose redirected his header into the path of the onrushing Helder Postiga, who poked the ball home. Portugal was not done, however. Joao Moutinho’s corner kick soon after was met with a thumping header from Bruno Alves into the upper right-hand corner to make the score 3-0. In the dying minutes of the match, Eder was substituted on to make his debut for the Seleccao. That was how the game ended: a comprehensive 3-0 victory for the hosts.

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

HIGHLIGHTS HERE