With the January transfer window just more than half over, the deals are beginning to come faster and stronger. There is a lot of movement, mainly from Portuguese players abroad. Let’s take a look at the latest: Continue reading
Norway 1-2 Portugal
2015 UEFA U-21 Euro Qualification
The Portuguese Under-21 team defeated Norway 2-1 yesterday to continue their perfect qualification campaign for the 2015 UEFA U-21 European Championship. The game was a much different encounter than the last time the two teams met, which ended in a 5-1 demolition by Portugal. This time out, the two teams were much more evenly-matched, and Portugal was not able to waltz to victory. This win kept Portugal at the top of Group 8 with a perfect record. The team has only conceded five goals in the seven matches thus-far in qualification, and has retained positive results throughout qualification, despite losing players such as Andre Gomes, Ivan Cavaleiro, and William Carvalho to the Senior National Team.
The Portuguese came into this game already qualified for the playoffs, having secured a top spot in the group. The only real reason for this match was to build confidence and gain more time on the field as a team. Also, Portugal was defending their perfect record in qualifying thus far. And early into the game, it appeared that this match would go much like the last time they played Norway. The Portuguese team dominated the opening exchanges, though the match took time to settle. Once both teams found their rhythm, the match was a lively, even affair, with both Portugal and Norway playing impressively. Though both teams appeared adept at possession, it was Portugal who fashioned the better chances on goal. And it was Portugal who opened the scoring. Some lax defensive work from Norway gave over possession in their midfield. Ricardo Esgaio picked up the ball and passed the ball upfield to Goncalo Paciencia. Paciencia then had the clarity of mind to look up and feed the ball to the on-rushing (and un-marked) Carlos Mane. Mane picked up the pass, took a few touches to steady himself, and calmly slotted the ball home. It was a confident goal that perfectly encapsulated Portugal’s play up to that point. The ease at which Portugal scored their goal left the feeling that they would run away with the game, as they have done countless times in this qualification cycle. That didn’t quite prove to be the case, as Norway defended diligently and capably. Just before half-time, however, Goncalo Paciencia pulled up injured after an awkward fall. The striker was substituted off for Ricardo, of Porto. Ricardo was moved to the left wing, and the goalscorer, Carlos Mane, was moved to the central role of striker.
The second half began with little incident, with both teams settling evenly into a flow. After the game settled down, it was Norway that looked the more lively, with the young 15 year-old Martin Odegaard proving difficult to handle for the Portuguese. Norway, realizing that anything less than a win would effectively eliminate the possibility of qualification, were a much different-looking team in the second half, dominating most of the proceedings. Despite this domination, Portugal still continued to have the cutting edge that Norway lacked. And this cutting edge paid off right around the hour mark. Joao Mario fed a ball to Ricardo Pereira, who, surrounded by Norwegian defenders, took a touch and skillfully finished near-post (and with his weaker left foot) past the Norwegian ‘keeper. Overall, a 2-0 scoreline was justified at that point, as Portugal had dominated the majority of the game up until that point. Norway were threatening, and their pressure paid off just minutes after Ricardo’s goal. The Norwegians pulled on back through Bakenga, who is the spearhead of the team’s attack. With the score now at 2-1, the remainder of the game was a tense one, with Norway within one goal of ruining Portugal’s loss-less record. Portuguese wonderkid Marcos Lopes had been brought on before the second-half goals, and his play proved to be a highlight in the time remaining in the match. Lopes hit the post with one play and one surging run and subsequent shot forced an excellent save out of the Norwegian goalkeeper. With Portugal looking comfortable and able to defend their lead, debutant Helder Costa, of Benfica’s B team, came on for Carlos Mane. Though the scoreline was close going into the final minutes of the match, little of note occurred, and Portugal walked away with a well-fought 2-1 victory.
The team will now face Azerbaijan in their final 2015 UEFA U-21 Euro qualification match, to be played on September 9th. For that match, Ruben Pinto (Benfica B), Andre Silva (Porto B), and Tiago Silva (Belenenses) have been called.
Bruno Varela, Ricardo Esgaio, Paulo Oliveira, Miguel Rodrigues, Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva, Sergio Oliveira, Rafa(Marcos Lopes), Carlos Mane(Helder Costa), Goncalo Paciencia(Ricardo)
Porto to West Bromwich Albion (loan)
After first-team chances looked slim this pre-season, Porto winger Silvestre Varela has left the club on loan. The winger, who had been an undisputed starter over the past few seasons now will join English Premier League side West Brom on loan until the end of the season. There is no mention of whether or not West Brom will have the option to sign him at the end of the loan, but with his Porto future up in the air, there’s every possibility an option does exist.
After a disappointing 2013/2014 campaign, Porto renovated their squad heavily. Head coach Paulo Fonseca was sacked and was replaced by former Spanish U-21 team head coach Julien Lopetegui. With Lopetegui came a host of Spanish players, including Adrian (Atletico Madrid), Oliver Torres (Atletico Madrid), and Cristian Tello (Barcelona). Other players were brought in from clubs such as Real Madrid, Granada, and Feyenoord. These signings spelled the end of Varela’s time at Porto, at least temporarily.
Though Varela is taking a step backwards in term of quality of club (from Porto to West Brom), he is certainly stepping up in terms of league quality. The English Premier League has formed a reputation for being one of the most competitive leagues in existence at the moment. Varela will now have the opportunity to play against some of the finest opposition in world football, which will do nothing but help his chances of appearing for the Portuguese National Team.
Portugal 2-2 United States
A last-minute goal from Silvestre Varela gave Portugal a 2-2 draw against a bright United States side in both teams’ second World Cup match. An early goal from Nani set Portugal on their way, but two second half goals from Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey gave the United States a deserved lead. But in the last play of the game, a Ronaldo cross found the head of Varela, who headed home with aplomb. The manner in which Varela scored is reminiscent of his last gasp goal at Euro 2012, when he came off the bench to score the goal that gave Portugal the win over Denmark. Though they managed a draw, the United States outplayed the Portuguese, and one could argue deserved to win the match.
Portugal are in Group G with Germany, United States, and Ghana; a group aptly labeled the “group of death.” In Portugal’s first game, the team fell hard 4-0 to Germany. From events stemming from the first match, Portugal were without starters Pepe, Rui Patricio, Fabio Coentrao, and Hugo Almeida, who were all unavailable for the match due to suspension or injury. This meant that Portugal’s starting lineup was something of a patchwork one, with Andre Almeida and Ricardo Costa replacing Fabio Coentrao and Pepe in defense respectively. Rui Patricio was replaced by Beto, while Helder Postiga resumed his starting role up top in place of the injured Hugo Almeida. Though their fitness was in question before the start of the match, Ronaldo and Bruno Alves both started for Portugal.
The game started very brightly for Portugal, with the team taking the lead after just five minutes. Miguel Veloso fired in an early cross, which was unsuccessfully cleared by Geoff Cameron for the United States. His botched clearance fell to the feet of Nani, who fired home for Portugal. It was Nani’s 15th goal for Portugal and his first in a major tournament for Portugal. And it was Nani who was the brightest Portuguese player for the first half of an hour. Portugal dominated possession, with the United States content on chasing the ball and counter-attacking incisively when Portugal turned over the ball. The game ebbed and flowed, with the United States gaining force as the first half was drawing to a close. Portugal was happy to counter, and came very close just before the half, only to be stopped by a pivotal save from USA goalkeeper Tim Howard. Nani picked up the ball on the right hand side and fired in a shot from outside the box. His effort struck the right upright post and fell to the feet of Eder (who had been brought on earlier for the injured Helder Postiga). The Braga man’s shot was expertly saved by the diving American goalkeeper. It was perhaps the save of the tournament and was definitely a huge let-off for Portugal. The team was up 1-0 at the half, but many questions surrounded their play, as the United States had begun to find their rhythm.
The United States, perhaps aware of what needed to be done, came out much more aggressively in the second half. And if it weren’t for a last-ditch tackle from Ricardo Costa ten minutes after the restart, the United States would have tied the game. The Valencia man was in the right place at the right time to expertly block Michael Bradley’s shot. Though Portugal got off that time, the message was clear. The United States were pressing more and more, and as a result looked the better team. Portugal looked poor and were struggling to cope with the increased pressure. And just ten minutes later, both teams got what they deserved. A rocket of a shot from United States midfielder Jermaine Jones thundered into the back of the net to level the scores for the two teams. The goal was a deserved one from the United States, whose play had warranted a goal. Portugal attempted a response, but the team was sluggish going forward and sloppy in defense. And then karma hit again. Around the 80th minute mark, the United States struck once more. The Americans ripped the Portuguese defense apart, and were rewarded by a Clint Dempsey goal. With the score at 2-1 advantage United States and Portugal looking unable to fire a response, many thought the game was over. Americans were shown dancing and celebrating their team’s (assumed) victory over one of Europe’s finest teams. But few remembered that this is the World Cup and anything is possible. And few could have predicted what happened next.
Around the hour mark, Silvestre Varela was substituted in for Raul Meireles. Before that point, Portugal had been playing in their favored 4-3-3 formation. Ronaldo, as usual, was given the freedom to roam from his starting position on the left wing. Though he could roam, he was largely stuck to the position of left-winger, and consistently popped up in attack on the left side of the field. Once Varela was substituted in, the team essentially moved to a 4-4-1-1, with Ronaldo given the freedom to roam as a sort-of attacking midfielder. This move was designed to give Ronaldo more freedom and to hopefully give Portugal the push to score a goal and spare the game. And it worked. Literally in the last seconds of the match, as the United States fans were celebrating their assumed victory, Ronaldo picked up the ball on the right wing. After beating his man, he fired in a perfect cross, which met the head of Varela and thundered into the back of the net to tie up the game at 2-2. USA fans were silent, and this time it was Portugal fans’ turn to celebrate. Though their team had been largely disappointing for the entire match, the Selccao managed to salvage a draw and keep their hopes of qualification to the next round alive.
Beto, Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Costa, Andre Almeida(William Carvalho), Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Ronaldo, Nani, Helder Postiga(Eder)
So what does this mean for Portugal’s chances? First, let’s take a look at the Group G table as it currently stands:
Portugal has a very poor goal difference because of their heavy 4-0 drubbing from Germany in their first match. To have any hope of qualification to the next round, Portugal first has to defeat Ghana and Germany has to defeat the United States. If Germany and the United States draw, they both advance and Portugal is eliminated. Let’s look at some results that would put Portugal through to the next round:
Portugal 2-0 Ghana, United States 0-4 Germany
Portugal 3-0 Ghana, United States 0-3 Germany
Portugal 3-1 Ghana, United States 1-5 Germany.
Portugal 8-0 Ghana, United States 1-0 Germany (very unlikely)
Essentially, Portugal needs a miracle.
Portugal 5-1 Ireland
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)
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.
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)
(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
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.
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.
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.
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 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
Gabon 2-2 Portugal
In what turned into quite a strange game, Portugal left the African continent with only a tie against Gabon. Pizzi and Hugo Almeida both scored for the Seleccao, but the team was unable to come away with a victory against their African opposition. Many November friendlies are rarely taken seriously. These friendlies are mainly concerned with testing new players into the national team setup, which may result in sub-par results. This, along with questionable refereeing, heat, and an uneven pitch, is what happened against Gabon.
The game started in a choppy fashion, with both teams attempting to find their feet. Gabon appeared to find theirs first, most likely due to being used to the heat and their home pitch. Only an inaccurate shot spared Portugal’s blushes in the 26th minute, as Gabon came extremely close to scoring. Gabon got their goal soon after, however. The ball was crossed in, and a clumsy tackle from Silvio brought down a Gabonese player, although the contact looked to be minimal. Nevertheless, the referee awarded a penalty, which Gabon slotted past Beto to make the score 1-0 in their favor, and stun Portugal. Portugal was stunned into action, and responded immediately. Eder was pulled down in the box, and the referee did not hesitate to award a penalty for Portugal, just two minutes after Gabon’s. Debutant Pizzi stepped up confidently, and easily slotted the ball past the Gabonese goalkeeper to level the scores. Not much more happened before halftime, and Portugal went into the locker room wondering what was happening.
Soon after the restart, Bruno Alves came close from a speculative long-range cross-shot, but nothing came of it. Portugal continued to press, and were rewarded on the hour mark. A neat one-two between Nelson and Varela left the former to square the ball to the wide-open Hugo Almeida, who tapped the ball into the empty net. But alas, Portugal’s woes were far from done. Gabon scored less than 10 minutes later, to level the scores at 2-2. From then on out, it was one-way Gabonese traffic, with the hosts controlling the flow of the game, as Portugal stepped off the gas due their large number of substitutions.
Beto, Nelson, Ricardo Costa, Pepe(Bruno Alves), Silvio, Custodio(Helder Barbosa), Joao Moutinho(Hugo Viana), Ruben Micael(Ruben Amorim), Varela(Paulo Machado), Pizzi, Eder(Hugo Almeida)
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)
Carlos Martins and Silvestre Varela have both left the Portugal National team squad due to injury. Martins was injured in Grenada’s match against Osasuna, while Varela was injured in today’s match between Porto and Feirense. Paulo Machado has been called as a replacement for Carlos Martins, but there will be no replacement for Varela, as it is too short-notice.