Archive for the ‘Brazil 2014’ Category

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Portugal were eliminated from the World Cup despite a 2-1 win against Ghana in their final group stage match. The victory was not enough to overturn a large goal differential left behind after a 4-0 defeat to Germany earlier in the tournament and the United States advanced to the round of 16 instead.

But the Seleção will not feel like they deserved a better fate. Throughout the tournament, this team looked predictable in attack, unstable at the back-end, and desperately lacking in intensity.

Many questions will be asked of Portugal’s leadership. Paulo Bento and the FPF face a long summer of reflection as they look ahead to qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in France.

Here are just some of the things we learned from Portugal’s early exit.

The Squad Has Aged and Declined Since Euro 2012

Portugal’s World Cup squad was little changed from the one that lost to Spain at the last European Championships two years ago. Bento went with a starting XI in the first match of this tournament that was identical to the one that lined up against Germany at Euro 2012, except Hugo Almeida started in place of the off-form Helder Postiga.

Many key players from the Euro 2012 squad had entered the downside of their careers since then. While Nani, Fábio Coentrão, Postiga and others had poor seasons at club level. Bento did not account for the decline of many of his players. And at the same time, not many players emerged as viable alternatives in the two years between major tournaments.

Paulo Bento’s Conservative Approach Has Backfired

Since his days at Sporting Lisbon, Paulo Bento’s coaching philosophy has been characterized by his conservative approach to squad selections and tactics. There is a good reason for this. Players often benefit from a certain level of consistency that is meant to help build team chemistry. However, this approach reached its zenith at Euro 2012.

The decline was evident during qualifying when the Seleção again struggled to defeat even minnows like Northern Ireland and Israel. No changes were made. Cristiano Ronaldo lifted Portugal to Brazil. But at the World Cup, the team’s weaknesses were badly exposed by the opposition. And the tried and tested system that had worked so well at Euro 2012 was no longer effective.

There Was No Plan B

Portugal electrified Euro 2012 with its entertaining brand of counter-attacking football. But two years after the fact, it was no longer a secret. Their opponents did a good job of defending the counter-attack leaving Portugal with fewer options. The team looked predictable and lacking in creativity.

There were attempts by Paulo Bento to experiment with a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 formation during qualifying and even in recent friendlies. But, the team never played in either formation long enough to gel. The familiar 4-3-3 formation suits Portugal’s style of play very well, but it has left the team vulnerable at times.

Injuries and Suspensions Left The Team Depleted

Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness issues was one of the most talked-about stories going into the tournament. It is clear now that he was likely feeling some pain in his knee during the group stage matches. But it was the injuries to Portugal’s supporting cast that probably hurt the team’s chances the most.

The loss of Fábio Coentrão to a groin injury in the match against Germany left Portugal light in attack on the flanks, which is vital to the team’s game plan. Injuries to Hugo Almeida, Rui Patricio, Andre Almeida and Helder Postiga followed, leaving Portugal with even fewer options. Pepe’s absence against the United States forced Bento to field a makeshift defense that looked very vulnerable at times.

Portugal Are Still Looking For That Quality Striker

The centre-forward position has been a particular point of weakness for the Seleção in recent tournaments. Helder Postiga has provided some much-needed production in qualifying, easing the goal-scoring burden on Ronaldo. However, the Valencia striker was coming off an injury-plagued season and was obviously off-form.

Hugo Almeida was injured early in the first half against Germany, opening the door for Braga’s Éder. But the 26-year-old struggled badly to find positioning and often lost possession in good areas. Éder was coming off a serious knee injury and he had difficulty against tough opposition defenses. And unfortunately, there does not appear to be anyone else who can come in and make an immediate impact.

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Portugal will not go into Brazil as one of the favorites among most pundits and fans. However, with the world’s best player and a reasonably balanced squad, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the country can win their first tournament at senior level next month.

The mood surrounding the Portuguese squad is one of cautious optimism. The relative success of Euro 2012 did much to dispel the notion that Portugal is in decline as a footballing nation. But still, the Seleção will go into the World Cup with less talent than in 2002 and 2006, but likely more than four years ago.

Several important players like Nani, João Moutinho and Fábio Coentrão had relatively poor seasons. And there are also concerns about the fitness of several players, including Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal can only be considered a dark horse, but one that is capable of making an impact, possibly more than that.

Portugal as a nation, prides itself on exceeding expectations. And it is that motivation that should drive the Seleção in Brazil. Here now are the 5 reasons Portugal can win the World Cup, courtesy of Futebol Factory.

Almost Home-Field Advantage

Portugal will be one of the best supported countries in Brazil. Tickets for a training session on June 12th sold out in less than six minutes this week. The common language and strong historical ties between the two countries will no doubt benefit the Seleção.

Many Portuguese emigrants who settled in Brazil left the country only a few decades ago, maintaining strong connections. And of course there will always be a hint of post-Colonial resentment towards Portugal in its former colony. However, the squad could expect to receive a warm welcome.

Little Pressure

There is a greater sense of optimism in Portugal than in previous tournaments. The squad is playing better, and most supporters believe that they should get stronger in the coming years. And in contrast to its rivals, the squad has little to prove going into the tournament.

Brazil will be playing at home. Anything less than a win would be a major disaster. The Spanish public has become accustomed to no less than complete success. Germany always expects to win. While, Argentina will be playing in their own continent. And recent performances at the World Cup have not been good enough.

Recent Success

Since the 2000 European Championships, Portugal has qualified for every tournament. In that time, they have made four semi-finals (Euro 2000, Euro 2004, Germany 2006, Euro 2012), and failed to make it out of the group stage just once. This is a level of success that is matched by few countries.

The Seleção are drawn into a tough group with Germany, Ghana and the United States. But this is unlikely to phase the team. Portugal was in a similar situation at Euro 2000, South Africa 2010 and Euro 2012. In each case, Portugal advanced into the knockout stage.

Strong Team Mentality

Portugal manager Paulo Bento is often criticized for his conservative approach to tactics and squad selections. However, it does serve a purpose. The core of the group has been together since the Euro 2012 qualification campaign. The Seleção will go into the tournament with a tried and tested system.

Time and time again, the squad has faced adversity. But the character and unity that comes along with a certain level of consistency has helped the squad overcome disappointing results, and bad qualifying campaigns. At Euro 2012, Portugal overcame a loss to Germany in their first match to finish second in the group. And they came within inches of eliminating a far more talented Spanish side in the semi-finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo

He is often sighted as the first reason. There is no player that elevates his country like Cristiano Ronaldo does. But it is the supporting cast that is the key to Portugal’s success. Paulo Bento has certainly succeeded where Carlos Queiroz failed. Ronaldo is not the only threat anymore. He has become the most important element of a system that benefits him and his teammates.

Great players do not win tournaments by themselves. But, they can make the difference in crucial moments. Diego Maradona did not win the 1986 World Cup by himself. It is just part of football folklore. The Argentine great could not have defended every corner, made every pass or scored every goal. Ronaldo cannot do it either, but what he can do is give Portugal every opportunity to win.

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Hélder Postiga, Valencia

A much-maligned centre-forward who split this past season with Valencia and Lazio. Hélder Postiga has provided some much-needed stability at the position during the Paulo Bento era. He scored six goals during qualifying which placed him second on the team to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Postiga has been a journeyman striker, very rarely settling in at any club. He played for FC Porto at youth level but never established himself as a regular player. Since then, he has spent time with Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon, and Real Zaragoza. The 31-year-old is coming off a poor season where he battled various injuries.

This Season: Postiga scored only three goals in 15 league appearances with Valencia. After moving to Lazio on-loan in January, injuries continued to plague him. He played in five Serie A matches with the club, scoring zero goals. Postiga scored only four goals in 28 total appearances in all competitions this season.

Fun Fact: Although often criticized for his lack of technical ability, Hélder Postiga has been a very productive striker for Portugal. His 27 goals ranks him sixth on Portugal’s all-time scoring list. His goal-to-game ratio of 0.40 is only slightly lower than Cristiano Ronaldo’s 0.45.

Hugo Almeida, Beşiktaş

Hugo Almeida has height, physical strength and is good in the air. However, the Beşiktaş striker has had a very difficult time replicating his club form with the national team. He has scored only 17 goals in 54 matches for Portugal.

Almeida is also a product of FC Porto’s youth academy. And like Hélder Postiga, he never quite established himself with the club. After several loans, Almeida signed a permanent deal with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen where he began to produce regularly. In 2011, he moved to Beşiktaş where he has continued to put up impressive goal totals.

This Season: Hugo Almeida played in 31 Turkish League matches for Beşiktaş, scoring 13 goals and producing another five assists. The club finished third in the League table.

Fun Fact: Almeida has two very prominent tattoos on each of his forearms. On the right is an image of a cross. While, he has his name and those of his wife and two kids tattooed on his left forearm.

Éder, Sporting Braga

Sporting Braga striker Éder is often touted as Portugal’s great hope at the position. However, the 26-year-old missed most of the past season and a half because of knee and foot injuries. And he has yet to reach top gear with the Seleção. Éder has yet to score in seven appearances so far.

Born in the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, Éder started playing football with several lower division clubs in Portugal before signing with Académica in 2008. His breakthrough season came in 2012-13, when he managed to score 13 goals in 18 matches before his season was cut short due to injury.

This Season: Éder was seriously limited this season because of injuries. He managed three goals and two assists in 13 Primeira Liga matches for Sporting Braga.

Fun Fact: Éder told Portuguese football website Maisfutebol in May 2013 that he grew up watching English football and Manchester United in particular. In an October 2012 Champions League match at Old Trafford, he brilliantly dribbled past Michael Carrick before delivering a pass to teammate Alan for Braga’s second goal.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Portugal’s great hope. Cristiano Ronaldo will go into the tournament as the reigning World Footballer of the Year, as well as the consensus best player in the World. The Portuguese captain is at the height of his individual ability, although there are concerns about his fitness.

Once widely criticized for his perceived lack of productivity with the national team, Ronaldo is now Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He proved that he could lead his country deep in a major tournament at Euro 2012. However, the 29-year-old needs to win the World Cup to establish himself as one of the greatest players in history.

This Season: It was another excellent season for the global superstar. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 31 goals in La Liga, winning the Pichichi award as the league’s top scorer. He also set a new single season record for Champions League goals with 17, helping Real Madrid win La Décima.

Fun Fact: Cristiano Ronaldo was recently named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People. His profile was written by none other than Pelé who compares the Real Madrid forward to former Portuguese international Eusébio. He writes that the two have ‘the same elegance and creativity.’

Nani, Manchester United

The Manchester United winger is almost as vital to Portugal’s success as Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani is coming off an injury-plagued season. A healthy and productive Nani would be a major boost to Portugal’s chances. He has formed a good partnership with Ronaldo in the past.

This will be Nani’s third major tournament with Portugal. He was forced to withdraw from the 2010 World Cup because of a shoulder injury. Nani had a good Euro 2012, which included being named the Man of the Match in Portugal’s 3-2 group stage win against Denmark.

This Season: Nani struggled through groin and hamstring injuries this season. He played in only 11 League matches for Manchester United.

Fun Fact: Nani is trained in Capoeira, a kind of Brazilian martial arts dance. He has been known to celebrate a goal by doing the ‘Leap of death’ move.

Vieirinha, Wolfsburg

The 28-year-old was an excellent player for Portugal’s youth squads but only received his first senior selection in March 2013. Vieirinha has put together some excellent performances for the Seleção in limited action.

Vieirinha suffered a serious knee injury last September and was thought to be ruled out for the World Cup. He returned in time to play in Wolfsburg’s final Bundesliga matches. A product of FC Porto’s academy, Vieirinha moved to Greek club PAOK in 2008. He was signed by Wolfsburg in 2012 after several stellar seasons.

This Season: Vieirinha appeared in 11 Bundesliga matches for Wolfsburg. The German club finished a solid fifth in the league table.

Fun Fact: Vieirinha was named the Player of the Tournament at the 2003 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, which Portugal won by beating rivals Spain in the final. He was also named PAOK’s Player of the Season twice, as well as the Greek Super League’s Best Foreign Player in 2011.

Silvestre Varela, FC Porto

The 29-year-old has been primarily used as an impact substitute during his time with the Seleção. He scored a memorable goal against Denmark to give Portugal a 3-2 win in the group stage of Euro 2012. He currently has 22 caps for Portugal.

Silvestre Varela is a graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s youth academy. But after spending several seasons on loan, he moved to Estrela Amadora. FC Porto signed him in 2009 and he has been a productive player for the club ever since. He has won the Primeira Liga on three occasions, the Portuguese Cup twice, and the Europa League in 2010-11.

This Season: Silvestre Varela played in 25 League matches for FC Porto, scoring five goals and adding another five assists. But the Dragões had a very disappointing season by their standards, finishing third in the league table.

Fun Fact: Silvestre Varela appeared to be a lock for South Africa 2010 after an impressive first season with Porto. However, he broke his left fibula in training ruling him out for the entire tournament.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer

João Moutinho, AS Monaco

The motor of Portugal’s offence. João Moutinho is an excellent box-to-box midfielder who has been behind many of the team’s attacks over the last several years. This will be Moutinho’s third major tournament at senior level with Portugal, as well as his first World Cup.

The 27-year-old had an underwhelming season in Ligue 1, which included being named as one of the League’s ‘Flops’ by the influential French magazine L’Équipe. However, this certainly has not affected his performances for the Seleção. He delivered brilliant assists on two of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals during Portugal’s 3-2 play-off win against Sweden in Stockholm.

This Season: João Moutinho played in 31 Ligue 1 matches with As Monaco this season, scoring once and producing seven assists. The club finished second in the League table this season, behind only Paris Saint-Germain.

Fun Fact: After leaving Sporting Lisbon for league rivals FC Porto in 2010, then Sporting president José Eduardo Bettencourt referred to him as a ‘rotten apple.’ Moutinho shattered that perception while with the Dragões winning three Liga Primeira titles, and the Europa League over three seasons. He is also the only member of the squad to be born in the Algarve.

Miguel Veloso, Dynamo Kyiv

28-year-old Miguel Veloso has primarily played the defensive role in a midfield triangle under Paulo Bento. He has performed the role well, but appears likely to lose his position in the starting XI to emerging talent William Carvalho who is better suited for the role.

Veloso is a graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s distinguished academy. Since leaving Portugal in 2010, he has played with Serie A club Genoa and is currently with Ukrainian club Dynamo Kyiv. This will be Veloso’s fourth major tournament with Portugal. He could also play at left-back.

This Season: Miguel Veloso appeared in 20 League matches for Dynamo Kyiv, helping the club finish fourth in the Ukrainian League.

Fun Fact: His father, António was a talented defender who appeared in 40 matches for Portugal. He was part of the squad that reached the semi-finals of Euro 1984. António Veloso won seven Liga Primeira titles with Benfica as well.

William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon

The Angolan-born defensive midfielder is widely expected to be one of Portugal’s key figures at the World Cup. The 22-year-old is part of an exciting emerging generation that should keep the Seleção competitive for the next decade. He made his international debut in the decisive 2nd leg of Portugal’s World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden.

Carvalho put together some impressive performances in recent friendlies against Cameroon and Greece. Another graduate of Sporting’s football academy, Carvalho had a successful 18-month loan spell at Cercle Brugge before establishing himself with the Lisbon club this past season.

This Season: William Carvalho was excellent this year for Sporting Lisbon, playing in 29 League matches for the club. The club finished second in the League table and qualified for the Champions League for next season.

Fun Fact: Carvalho was raised in Mira Sintra, just outside of Lisbon. As a 13-year-old, he reportedly turned down an invitation to join Portugal’s biggest club Benfica in favour of rivals Sporting Lisbon.

Rafa Silva, Sporting Braga

The 21-year-old’s selection came as a surprise to some people. Rafa Silva had just finished his first season in the Liga Primeira when the squad was announced. But there is no denying his potential. Supremely skilled, industrious and blessed with excellent vision, Rafa will be counted on to produce creativity off the bench.

Nominally an attacking midfielder, Rafa was also used on the wing on several occasions this season with Sporting Braga. He made his international debut in a March 5th friendly against Cameroon, playing the entire first-half before withdrawing at half-time due to injury. Rafa is the youngest player on the squad.

This Season: Rafa Silva was a revelation this season with Braga, scoring eight goals in all competitions for the club. A thigh injury in March did not prevent him from being chosen for the World Cup.

Fun Fact: Rafa’s selection to the squad completes what has been an incredible rise for the youngster. He played for modest clubs Atlético Povoense and Alverca, before signing with Feirense in 2011. Rafa played in Portugal’s second division prior to this past season.

Raul Meireles, Fenerbahçe

A seasoned veteran who is often referred to as Portugal’s ‘pitbull.’ He rarely loses possession and has been an effective player on both sides of the game. Meireles has played in 73 international matches for Portugal which places him tied for second-most with Manchester United winger Nani on the current World Cup squad. This will be his fourth major tournament with Portugal.

Meireles has had a very distinguished career having won titles in Portugal, England and Turkey. That includes winning the Champions League with Chelsea in 2011-12. He was also voted as PFA Fans’ Player of the Year when he was with Liverpool in 2010-11. Meireles will likely play alongside João Moutinho in Brazil.

This Season: Meireles missed several matches in the first half of the season due to a thigh injury. However, he still managed to play in 20 League matches for Turkish side Fenerbahçe. Along with international teammate Bruno Alves, Meireles helped the club win the Turkish League this season.

Fun Fact: Raul Meireles’ appearance often makes more headlines than his performances on the field. He has numerous tattoos, which includes images of his wife and daughter. Currently, he is sporting a long beard and a Mohawk haircut.

Rúben Amorim, Benfica

The 29-year-old is a very reliable box-to-box midfielder, who could also play at right-back. Amorim has been effective when called upon with Portugal. Although not always first-choice at club level, Amorim has managed to earn a position on the squad after a good season with Benfica.

Amorim was a youth player for Benfica, before signing with Belenenses in 2003. He earned a transfer back to Benfica in 2008 after some impressive seasons. He was loaned to Sporting Braga in 2012-13, before returning to the Lisbon club this past season.

This Season: Rúben Amorim battled injuries this season, as he has done throughout much of his career. But he still managed to play in 17 Liga Primeira matches. And he was a valuable contributor to Benfica’s treble winning season.

Fun Fact: Amorim was a last-minute replacement for Nani four years ago, when the Manchester United winger picked up a clavicle injury and was unable to play in South Africa. Both will be on the squad this time around.

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Fábio Coentrão, Real Madrid

A mainstay in the squad since the last World Cup, Fábio Coentrão has been one of Portugal’s most consistent players over that time. This will be the third consecutive tournament for the silver-haired left-back. He was named to the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2012.

Coentrão began playing football as a winger with hometown club Rio Ave. But while at Benfica, manager Jorge Jesus converted him to left-back. Although he has never really lived up to the expectations that came along with his €30 million transfer to Real Madrid in 2011, he has remained a valuable contributor to the club’s success.

This Season: Coentrão battled injuries for most of the first half of the season. He played in only 10 La Liga matches for the club, which includes eight starts. However, he was excellent in the knockout stages of the Champions League, helping Real Madrid win their historic La Décima.

Fun Fact: Fábio Coentrão comes from a family of fishermen and has said repeatedly that he would have likely spent his life working on boats if his football career did not work out. As a youngster, the rest of his family left for France in search of a better life, leaving young Fábio to live with his aunt.

By that time, Coentrão was already tied to Rio Ave and his parents were confident that their son would succeed. It turned out to be an excellent gamble. At Rio Ave, he would become known as the ‘Figo das Caxinas.’ He will go to Brazil with a heavy heart. His father passed away last November. Coentrão dedicated the recent La Décima win to his memory.

João Pereira, Valencia

A attack-minded right-back that is known for his combative behaviour. João Pereira has been an automatic starter since Paulo Bento became manager in 2010. He recently produced an excellent assist on Cristiano Ronaldo’s 48th international goal, which moved the Real Madrid star into first-place on Portugal’s all-time scoring list.

Pereira is a graduate of Benfica’s football academy. He has also played for Gil Vicente, Braga and Sporting Lisbon. In 2012, he moved to La Liga club Valencia where he currently plays. Pereira battled inconsistency and injuries for most of this past season.

This Season: Pereira played in 25 La Liga matches this season with Valencia, starting 23 of those matches. The club finished a very disappointing eighth in the League table. They were eliminated in the semi-finals of the Europa League by eventual winners Sevilla.

Fun Fact: Pereira is one of the few players to have played for city rivals Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. Pereira was originally an attacker with Benfica but was eventually converted to right-back.

André Almeida, Benfica

One of the surprises of the squad. André Almeida is a very reliable defender, who could play on the left and the right sides, as well as in defensive midfield. The 23-year-old received his first international cap in October 2013 in a World Cup qualifier against Israel. Almeida started the match in place of the injured João Pereira.

Almeida was seldom used throughout most of the season. However, after a number of injuries to key players, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus began utilizing him more especially during the club’s Europa League run. He will primarily be counted on to provide defensive support at the back.

This Season: André Almeida played in 10 Primeira Liga matches for Benfica. He helped the club complete the Portuguese treble, winning the League, League Cup and Portuguese Cup championships.

Fun Fact: A native of Lisbon, Almeida has played for all three of the city’s biggest clubs. Originally a Sporting Lisbon youth player, he would join Belenenses in 2007. Benfica would sign him from the second division in 2011.

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Pepe, Real Madrid

Portugal’s stalwart at the centre of defence. This will be the fourth major tournament for Brazilian-born Pepe. A serious knee injury forced him to miss the first two matches of the last World Cup in South Africa. He returned to action ironically in a group stage match against Brazil which ended in a scoreless draw.

After a mediocre season last year, the 31-year-old bounced back with one of his best in 2013-14. He has been stellar for Portugal in big occasions, having been named to the Team of the Tournament for Euro 2008 and most recently, Euro 2012. He will line up along side Bruno Alves in Brazil.

This Season: Pepe was once again at the heart of Real Madrid’s success. He played in 30 La Liga matches this season, scoring four goals. The Portuguese international helped Real Madrid win La Décima this season as well, although he would miss the final due to injury.

Fun Fact: Pepe is a practicing Roman Catholic. He traveled to the shrine town of Fátima after Portugal’s semi-final defeat against Spain to ‘Give thanks to Our Lady.’

Bruno Alves, Fenerbahçe

A strong, tactically astute central defender, who is also very good in the air. Bruno Alves received his first international call-up in 2007 when he was with FC Porto. He currently has 70 caps for Portugal which places him third all-time among defenders behind only Ricardo Carvalho (75) and Fernando Couto (110).

The 32-year-old previously won four Primeira Liga titles with FC Porto before leaving for Zenit St. Petersburg in 2010. He was named the Primeira Liga’s Player of the Year in 2009. Alves spent this past season with Turkish club Fenerbahçe, alongside fellow Portuguese international Raul Meireles.

This Season: In his first season in Turkey, Bruno Alves played in 25 League matches for Fenerbahçe. The club was disqualified from European competition because of involvement in a match-fixing scandal. But the İstanbul-based club won the Turkish League title, finishing nine points ahead of rivals Galatasaray.

Fun Fact: Alves comes from a very proud football family. His father Washington, was a Brazilian footballer who played professionally in Portugal, mainly with Varzim Sport Clube. His older brother Geraldo has had a long, successful career and played this past season in Romania. Younger brother Júlio Alves is currently with Rio Ave.

Ricardo Costa, Valencia

Despite not always being first-choice at club level, Ricardo Costa has been consistently chosen to represent Portugal. Although his contribution has largely been limited to late-match substitute. The 33-year-old is currently sitting on 16 caps.

Costa began playing football with Boavista before signing with city rivals FC Porto in 1999. He would never receive regular first-team football at the club. He would leave to join VfL Wolfsburg in 2007. Costa would help them win the Bundesliga in 2008-09, before joining Valencia in 2010. He served as team captain this past season for the La Liga club.

This Season: Ricardo Costa battled through some injuries this season, but still managed to play 20 League matches for the club. Valencia had a very disappointing season for their standards. They finished eighth in the League table and will not play in Europe next season.

Fun Fact: Ricardo Costa will be one of only two Portuguese internationals to represent his country in three World Cups. This other is Cristiano Ronaldo.

Luís Neto, Zenit Saint Petersburg

The 26-year-old was selected to play in his first major tournament for Portugal. He received his first international call-up in October 2012 and currently has six caps. Luis Neto has been a very reliable defender in his short career with the Seleção.

Neto played for his hometown club Varzim before leaving to join Madeira-based Nacional in 2011. After a short stint with Serie A club Siena, Neto moved on to Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg.

This Season: Luis Neto had a rather poor first half of the season. However, after the arrival of André Villas-Boas as manager in March his fortunes began to improve as did the club’s results. He played in 25 League matches, which included 22 starts for the club. Zenit would finish second in the Russian Premier League, only one point behind CSKA Moscow.

Fun Fact: Luis Neto was named to Portugal’s under-21 squad for the 2009 Lusophony Games, winning a silver medal.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Rui Patrício, Sporting Lisbon

The 26-year-old will go to Brazil as Portugal’s undisputed starting goalkeeper. He was first selected for the national squad in 2008 but became first-choice shortly after Paulo Bento became Portugal’s manager in 2011. He is primarily known for his strong aerial ability.

Patrício made a high-profile blunder in a World Cup qualifying match against Israel in October 2013, but bounced back in a positive way in the play-off matches against Sweden. This will be Patrício’s third major tournament after Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. He played in all of Portugal’s five matches during Euro 2012, helping A Seleção reach the semi-finals.

This Season: Rui Patricio was once-again solid in goal for Sporting Lisbon, helping them to a second place finish. He conceded only 20 goals in 30 matches, which included 15 clean sheets.

Fun Facts: Patrício was named Sporting Lisbon’s Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2012. However, he was passed over this past year in favour of midfielder Adrien Silva.

Beto, FC Sevilla

The 32-year-old goalkeeper earned his position on Paulo Bento’s squad after an excellent season in La Liga. Originally part of Sporting Lisbon’s academy, Beto was never given a chance to start at the club. He has become known as a late bloomer. He bounced around several clubs in Portugal’s second division before helping Leixões to promotion in 2007.

In 2009, Beto moved on to FC Porto where he would see very little action except in Cup matches for the next few seasons. It was a loan move to Romanian club CFR Cluj that ignited his career. He won the Romanian League title in 2011-12 before moving back to Portugal with Sporting Braga. From there, FC Sevilla came calling and Beto is currently enjoying the best years of his career in his early 30s.

This Season: Beto helped FC Sevilla to a surprising fifth-place finish in La Liga, a season after losing both Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo to Manchester City. He has become known for making timely saves. Beto was excellent for Sevilla in their Europa League campaign, helping them win the title, beating former club FC Porto and Portuguese Champions Benfica along the way.

Fun Fact: Beto has won every major trophy at club level in Portugal. He won the Segunda Liga title with Leixões in 2006–07. At FC Porto, he won the Primeira Liga title in 2010-11, as well as the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira and Taça de Portugal twice. He is also credited with winning the Taça da Liga title with Braga in 2012-13, although he was on loan at Sevilla during the final.

Eduardo Carvalho, Genoa

The 31-year-old veteran goalkeeper was Portugal’s best player in South Africa in 2010, conceding only one goal in four matches. He enjoyed his best seasons with Sporting Braga between 2008 and 2010. Eduardo’s career dipped after he joined Serie A club Genoa. Since then, he has been loaned out to Benfica, İstanbul BB, and back to Braga this past season.

Eduardo lost his position as Portugal’s first-choice goalkeeper during qualification for Euro 2012. However, he had a good season this year with Braga and has earned a spot in Brazil. This will be Eduardo’s third major tournament representing Portugal.

This Season: Eduardo started 29 League matches for Sporting Braga and was solid overall, conceding only 35 goals along the way. However, the Minho club had a very disappointing season. They were eliminated in the qualification stage of the Europa League by Romanian side Pandurii Târgu Jiu. Braga also finished ninth in the League table, their worst finish since 2002-03.

Fun Fact: Eduardo was named the Portuguese League’s Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2007-08 while on-loan at Vitória Setúbal. He helped the club win the Taça da Liga and qualify for the UEFA Cup for the first time.

William Carvalho Could Start In Brazil

William Carvalho Could Start In Brazil

The World Cup is still just over three months away and already many analysts and fans are trying to predict who Paulo Bento will bring to Brazil this summer.

The Seleção manager is expected to make his official announcement on May 19th, just before the squad re-convenes in Cascais for training. Portugal’s 5-1 defeat of Cameroon on March 5th in Leiria only raised expectations ahead of world football’s greatest event.

For most of Portugal’s recent World Cup qualifying campaign Paulo Bento relied on a group of experienced veterans that have been with the squad since he took over in 2010.

The Portugal manager has been criticized for being too conservative with his selections, while not recognizing the age and decline of several of his key players.

But in recent matches, Bento has showed signs that he may be ready to bend, calling up FC Porto midfielder Josué, Benfica defender Andre Almeida, Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho, among others.

Against Cameroon, Bento surprised everyone by starting Sporting Braga’s Rafa Silva and Benfica’s Ivan Cavaleiro up-front with Cristano Ronaldo. This added to the perception that Paulo Bento is ready to embrace Portugal’s emerging generation of talent.

Here now is a list of 15 young players that could be on Portugal’s World Cup squad in Brazil.

Anthony Lopes, Olympique Lyonnais, Goalkeeper

The 23-year-old goalkeeper has been in excellent form this season for the French club. A serious back injury threatened to derail his World Cup dream in November, however, he has since recovered and resumed his position as Lyon’s number one goalkeeper.

Lopes received his first international call-up in September but is yet to receive a cap. However, he was selected for the recent friendly against Cameroon. Lopes is likely to face competition from FC Sevilla’s Beto and Sporting Braga’s Eduardo for one of the two positions behind Rui Patricio.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Olympique Lyonnais Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes Hopes To Realize World Cup ‘Dream’

André Almeida, Benfica, Right-Back/Defensive Midfielder

A very dependable and versatile player, who has seen his playing time at Benfica dramatically reduced this season. The 23-year-old is most comfortable on the right side, but could also play left-back and in midfield. Although, he is limited on the offensive side of the ball.

Almeida played very well for Portugal in two World Cup qualifiers in October in place of the injured João Pereira. However, he was not selected against Cameroon. Portugal are very deep at the full-back positions and it seems unlikely that Almeida will be going to Brazil.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Benfica’s André Almeida Breaks Through

Cédric Soares, Sporting Lisbon, Right-Back

An offensively gifted full-back that has been a major part of Sporting Lisbon’s success this season. The 22-year-old is widely considered as a future star for the Selecção. He received his only international call-up in October 2013 but did not play.

Soares’ situation is the same as André Almeida. Despite João Pereira’s poor season, he is still widely expected to start in Brazil. Miguel Lopes, Antunes and Sílvio are all more experienced alternatives. But the Sporting right-back is one for the future.

Related Post: PLAYER PROFILE: Cédric Soares Targeted By Several Clubs in England And Germany

Tiago Ilori, Liverpool (On Loan at Granada), Central Defender

The 21-year-old moved to Liverpool this summer after some excellent displays at the end of last season with Sporting Lisbon. He did not see any action with the English club in the first half of that season and was sent on loan to La Liga club Granada.

Portugal does not have a lot of depth at the centre of defence. Pepe and Bruno Alves are both over the age of 30. Ilori is a top-level prospect and if he could manage to put together some consistent performances for Granada, Paulo Bento could decide to bring him to Brazil.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Sporting Lisbon’s Central Defender Tiago Ilori

William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon, Defensive Midfielder

William Carvalho’s place on the squad is an almost certainty. If he stay healthy, it is only a question of whether he will start in Brazil or not. The 21-year-old has been a revelation for Sporting Lisbon this season and has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer.

Carvalho received his first cap in the deciding leg of a World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden in November. The youngster was brought on to help preserve the lead. He received his first start against Cameroon and earned rave reviews with his performance. Whether it is a direct result of Carvalho or not, Portugal looked more organized and stable defensively than they had throughout qualifying.

Related Post: Scout Report – William Carvalho

Josué, FC Porto, Attacking Midfielder

A talented midfielder, who has also been used as a winger at times this season with Porto. Josué is a modern playmaker who has great vision, passing ability and a strong sense of the game. However, he has a history of disciplinary issues, including a suspension for spitting earlier this season.

He received his first cap with Portugal against Israel in October. He started his first match with the Selecção just days later against Luxembourg and played very well. Since then, Josué has been regularly selected for the squad. He has received four cap with Portugal so far.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Paços de Ferreira’s Playmaker Josué

Adrien Silva, Sporting Lisbon, Central Midfielder

Adrien Silva is an interesting case. As Sporting Lisbon’s manager, Paulo Bento gave Adrien Silva his senior debut in 2007. Since then, the French-born Silva has been on loan twice. He has been integral to Sporting’s success this season and was recently named his club’s Player of the Year for 2013.

Adrien was selected in September 2013 as an injury replacement for Ruben Micael but did not receive a cap. Portugal’s depth in midfield means that he is unlikely to be selected for Brazil. His name has been around so long that many forget that he is only 24-years-old. His time may not have arrived, yet.

Related Post: PLAYER PROFILE: Sporting Lisbon’s Adrien Silva Is Finally Living Up To His Potential

André Martins, Sporting Lisbon, Attacking Midfielder

Sporting Lisbon’s midfield ‘brain,’ André Martins has been behind many of the club’s scoring chances this season. Martins is probably the closest thing that Portugal has to a ‘pure’ playmaker. He possesses strong offensive instincts, combined with excellent passing and an ability to control the match.

The 24-year-old has received two caps with Portugal but has not been selected since August 2013. Like several players on the list, Martins will likely be a victim of Portugal’s depth in midfield. But with Raul Meireles and Ruben Amorim aging, it is realistic to think that Martins’ days with the Selecção are not too far away.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Sporting Lisbon’s Promising Midfielder André Martins

André Gomes, Benfica, Central Midfielder

Another supremely talented midfielder, 20-year-old André Gomes has not seen very much first-team action with Benfica this season. Although he has continued to play regularly and produce for Benfica B in the second division. Gomes will need to work his way back into Jorge Jesus’ line-up to have any chance of going to Brazil.

He received his only call-up to the Selecção for an international friendly with Ecuador in February 2013 but did not see any action. The young midfielder was a hot commodity during the January transfer window before his rights were sold to a third-party investment fund. He is certainly one to watch for the future.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Benfica Midfielder André Gomes Is Being Pursued By Europe’s Top Clubs

Rafa Silva, Sporting Braga, Attacking Midfielder/Winger

The 20-year-old was signed by Braga from second division Feirense last summer. Expected to play a limited role, Rafa played himself into a regular starting position this season. He has speed, vision, as well as excellent dribbling and passing ability.

Paulo Bento played Rafa and Ivan Cavaleiro alongside Cristiano Ronaldo against Cameroon on March 5th. He would play the entire first half, making two very good attempts on goal. However, he aggravated a thigh injury during the match and is expected to be out for six weeks. He should be back playing well before the squad is chosen on May 19th.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Sporting Braga Midfielder Rafa Silva Is A Potential Future Star

Ivan Cavaleiro, Benfica, Winger

The young winger began this season with Benfica B in the second division. His performances earned him some first-team action. However, since the New Year Benfica manager Jorge Jesus has not used him very much. Eduardo Salvio’s return from injury, combined with Benfica’s title aspirations could mean that Cavaleiro will not play very much before the World Cup.

Cavaleiro had a nervous first-half against Cameroon, but did manage a beautiful back-heel assist to Fábio Coentrão for Portugal’s third goal in the 5-1 win. The Selecção has several of their regular wingers injured, including Nani and Zenit St.Petersburg’s Danny. Paulo Bento could be tempted to take Cavaleiro to Brazil.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Benfica’s Ivan Cavaleiro Is Hoping To Break Into The Senior Squad

Bruma, Galatasaray, Winger

The extremely promising Bruma arrived on the scene a year ago with Sporting Lisbon. After a contract dispute this summer, the youngster left for Turkey. He won the Silver Shoe at the 2013 U-20 World Cup, scoring five goals in four matches. He had a positive start to the season with Galatasaray before suffering a serious knee injury in early January.

In October, Bruma was call-up by Paulo Bento as a replacement for the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal’s final World Cup qualifying match against Luxembourg. However, he was not selected for the Sweden matches in November. Bruma is expected to be out a while longer and faces a race against time just to be ready for Brazil.

Related Post: PLAYER PROFILE: European Giants Chase Sporting Lisbon’s Bruma

Carlos Mané, Sporting Lisbon, Winger

A speedy, skilled winger who has worked his way into more playing time with Leonardo Jardim’s squad in recent weeks. The 19-year-old has earned accolades for scoring some excellent goals this season as well. He has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.

Mané has yet to receive a call-up to the Selecção but it would be foolish rule it out. Paulo Bento’s change of heart regarding young players on the squad could mean that there is room for Mané. He suffered a thigh injury in a recent match for the U-21 squad which is not expected to keep him out for long. If he continues to play regularly for Sporting, Mané could just earn a spot.

Related Post: SCOUTING REPORT: Sporting Lisbon’s Carlos Mané Scores Brilliant Goal Against Marítimo

Nélson Oliveira, Benfica (On Loan at Stade Rennais), Striker

A Wild Card at the striker position for Portugal. Oliveira first came to prominence at the 2011 U20 World Cup for Portugal. Currently on loan in Ligue 1, he started the year positively but has not scored since November 2nd. He was selected for Euro 2012 but has not been part of the squad for the last several matches.

Paulo Bento has demonstrated a lot of faith in the 22-year-old in the past. He is currently battling a thigh injury which could keep him out weeks. There is still time for Oliveira to demonstrate that he is ready to produce on the international level. But he needs to start scoring again.

Related Post: TRANSFER WINDOW: Benfica Striker Nélson Oliveira Officially Joins Rennes On One-Year Loan Deal

Can Helder Postiga Continue To Produce For Portugal?

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer

It seems like the striker position is always a major topic of conversation for Portugal before every tournament. And this time around it will be no different.

The centre-forward position has been the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Selecção for some time. In truth, Portugal has only had one world-class quality striker and that was Eusébio.

Since the country’s return to the elite of world football in 2000, Portugal have used Nuno Gomes, Pauleta, and even Brazilian-born Liedson in the position. Former PSG striker Pauleta remains tied with Cristiano Ronaldo as the country’s top scorer but his goals were often lacking during major competitions.

In Paulo Bento’s time, Hélder Postiga has produced to a certain degree although many doubts remain over whether he is good enough to produce at the highest level as well.

Behind him is the much-maligned Hugo Almeida, who has had a difficult time scoring internationally. But for the first time in several years, there is hope. Éder and Nelson Oliveira are both young and very promising.

Futebol Factory breaks down the striker position for Portugal.

Tickets Booked: Hélder Postiga (Valencia)

On The Bubble: Hugo Almeida (Beşiktaş), Éder (Sporting Braga), Nélson Oliveira (Stade Rennais)

Valencia’s Hélder Postiga has been Paulo Bento’s choice for over two years now. He still remains the most likely to play up front for Portugal in Brazil.

The problem with Postiga is that his overall game is lacking. A conventional centre-forward, Postiga is not helpful on transitions, he does not create goals, nor does he possess a strong football IQ. Plus, he is now 31-years-old and is unlikely to be an option for much longer.

What Postiga offers, however, is goals and plenty of them. Despite the limitations of his game, Postiga has still produced for his country. He has scored 27 goals in 66 matches for Portugal in total, for an average of 0,41 goals a game. He scored six goals during the previous qualifying campaign.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-per-game average is a slightly better 0,43. Although the Portuguese captain has recorded many, many more assists. And he has been able to produce at the highest level for his country.

Another major concern is that Postiga has not had a good start to this season with Valencia. He has scored only three goals in 13 matches and has battled some injuries as well.

Beşiktaş’ Hugo Almeida has become known for missing clear-cut opportunities for the squad. Paulo Bento and his predecessor Carlos Queiroz have selected him because of a lack of options. He has scored only 17 goals in 52 matches for Portugal.

Almeida filled in for an injured Helder Postiga in the second-leg of Portugal’s playoff against Sweden. He missed an easy header in the first half. But he did deliver a neat chip pass to Cristiano Ronaldo for his second goal of the match. Reminding Selecção supporters what he could do.

Sporting Braga’s Éder is an intriguing possibility at centre-forward. He is quick on his feet, good in the air and offers a lot more than just scoring goals. He remains the most likely to replace Postiga as Portugal’s first-choice striker.

Manchester United fans may remember him from last year’s Champions League match at Old Trafford. He dribbled past Michael Carrick to feed Alan for Braga’s second goal of the match. The Red Devils would come back and win but the assist went viral.

Éder suffered a serious knee injury in February but is healthy now and is back scoring goals. He has received six caps so far and has yet to score for his country.

And then there is 22-year-old Nélson Oliveira. He is a Benfica product, who is currently on loan at Ligue 1 club Rennes. After a disappointing loan spell with Deportivo La Coruna last season, he has rebounded this year with seven goals already.

Although his game is still a work in progress. He still needs to learn when to pass or make an attempt on goal. And he needs to work on his consistency and finish. But Oliveira certainly has the potential to be a world-class striker.

Though not very quick, he is big and strong, a good header of the ball and could create opportunities as well. Oliveira is not your conventional centre-forward and is often compared to Eric Cantona and current PSG striker Edinson Cavani.

Oliveira was on the Euro 2012 squad and remains a possibility for the World Cup. But he faces a difficult task to get there.

Paulo Bento has been selecting three strikers for most of the qualifying campaign, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing in the centre of the field in late stages of the game on occasion.

Clearly, the centre-forward position will be the most difficult to predict, but once again the most interesting to watch.

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THE MIDFIELDERS: Who Will Represent Portugal At The World Cup In Brazil?

THE FULL BACKS: Who Will Represent Portugal At The World Cup In Brazil?

THE CENTRE BACKS: Who Will Represent Portugal At The World Cup In Brazil?

THE GOALKEEPERS: Who Will Represent Portugal At The World Cup In Brazil?

FEATURE: 10 Portuguese Players Who Need To Improve Before The World Cup

FEATURE: 5 Players That Could Help Portugal Beat Sweden And Reach Brazil 2014

FEATURE: 7 Young Players That Could Help The Seleção Reach World Cup 2014

TRANSFER WINDOW: Benfica Striker Nélson Oliveira Officially Joins Rennes On One-Year Loan Deal

PLAYER PROFILE: Portugal’s Striker of the Future Éder

TRANSFER WINDOW: Hélder Postiga Joins Valencia On A Two-Year Contract