Posts Tagged ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’

Santos Euro 2016

A day after Portugal marked the one-year anniversary of its Euro 2016 victory, the man who led them to that feat spoke to a group of journalists at the Cidade do Futebol facility in Oeiras. Fernando Santos says the country’s first title at senior level could set the stage for more success in the future.

The standard has been raised. Portugal should expect to be a contender in every competition. We have that obligation now. We have found a new path. We now know what it takes to win. The best teams know this. If we know what we have to do to win, than the road to get there is a little easier. Still, we can’t expect to win every tournament we enter.

Santos also credited the team’s work ethic and spirit of togetherness for the victory.

The players deserved it because of all the work they put in and for always believing in themselves. I can’t say it all went the way we would have liked but we always believed we could do better.

We created a family there [at the training camp in Marcoussis]. It is always important for a squad to be united. I was the mentor in a way. I can’t say I did not have something to do with it (laughs). We cultivated a strong spirit. When we got to Marcoussis, I told the players that they would have free time for their families and for themselves, regardless of the results. We were together for 50 days and I think that was very fundamental. It made a difference.

The final group stage match against Hungary (a 3-3 draw in which they fell behind on three occasions) showed the team’s character, according to Santos.

The match against Hungary was an important moment. At several times in that match, many players would have experienced doubt, but my players always believed they could win.

Portugal received criticism for its style of play, which was characterized as more pragmatic than many Portuguese teams from the past but Santos was making no apologies on Tuesday.

Controversies won’t obscure the fact that Portugal are champions of Europe. It wasn’t luck, it was merit. It wasn’t spectacular but even Germany have won few things in that way. We need to continue to improve our recruitment so that it is up to par with other countries.

He also found time to praise Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Often portrayed as single-minded and arrogant by the media, O Engenheiro offered a very different take on the four-time World Footballer of the Year.

Cristiano, our captain, has been a point of reference on this squad. He demonstrates leadership in his demeanor, attitude and dedication to the Seleção Nacional. Many of the young players today were 7 or 8 when he started playing in 2003 and became used to seeing him as an idol. But, they soon realize that he is just another teammate. He sacrifices everything, gives everything. And not just at Euro 2016 but in every match he plays.

Santos spoke about the moment in the final when the players realized that they would have to win without their captain.

It really struck us. We had a strategy and it was working very well. [Ronaldo] was very involved until that point. But, I continued to believe my players could win. Everyone was impacted [by Ronaldo’s injury]. We were all anxious at halftime.

Finally, he took time to update the fans on Éder who scored the most meaningful goal in Portugal’s history but finds himself on the outside looking in as far as the national team is concerned.

I care a lot about my players. When we have a situation like the one Éder is in now [at Lille] where he is out of the squad, it makes me sad. I hope that this situation changes and I told him that.

Santos and the players, fresh off a third-place finish at the Confederations Cup in Russia, will take time to recharge before the club season begins in a matter of weeks.

And Portugal still have plenty of work to do to qualify for next year’s World Cup. They currently sit in second in Group B, three points behind Switzerland. They will face Faroe Islands at the Estádio do Bessa in Porto on 31 August, followed by Hungary in Budapest three days later.

All quotes were translated from Portuguese by Rui Miguel Martins.

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Portugal’s uncompromising style of play did not win them much admiration among neutral fans or the media but it was undoubtedly effective. Much credit should go to manager Fernando Santos who engineered a victory by utilizing the full strength of his squad. Football Factory rated each player on their performance over the entire tournament.

Goalkeepers

Rui Patricio He was not always busy but proved to be solid when called upon. He made a crucial stop in the penalty shootout against Poland. And he made several quality stops against France in the final. Named Best Goalkeeper at the tournament. Patricio is currently enjoying the best period of his career. 9

Eduardo Did not play.

Anthony Lopes Did not play.

 

Defenders

Raphael Guerreiro He was probably Portugal’s most consistent outfield player. The French-born Guerreiro provided the cross for Cristiano Ronaldo’s header against Wales. He was deservedly named to the team of the tournament. 8

Eliseu He filled in for Guerreiro against Hungary and Poland. The Benfica left-back looked much improved in his defensive duties, although he did not offer much in attack. 6

Pepe The Real Madrid man began the tournament with a poor display against Iceland and Hungary in the group stage. However, he was near flawless in the knockout stages.  A thigh injury kept him out of the semi-finals. But he returned in time to face France and put in a Man-of-the-Match performance for his country. Named to the Team of the Tournament. 8

Ricardo Carvalho The 38-year-old has been a solid contributor since returning to the international scene following Fernando Santos’ appointment. He looked slightly out of step especially in the 3-3 draw against Hungary. He was dropped in favour of Jose Fonte for the knockout stages. 6

Jose Fonte One of the great stories in this squad. The former Sporting CP academy graduate only made his international debut less than two years ago at the age of 30. He replaced Ricardo Carvalho against Croatia and was solid the rest of the way. 7

Bruno Alves He filled in admirably for the injured Pepe in the semi-final against Wales. 6

Cedric Soares Took over for Vieirinha against Croatia. His crucial mistake in the early stages against Poland led to the Robert Lewandowski goal. However, the Southampton right-back did not hang his head. Instead, he would be one of Portugal’s best performers the rest of the way. 7

Vieirinha The biggest disillusionment of this tournament for Portugal. He failed to provide sufficient cover on the Iceland goal in the first match. He was ineffective in attack and at times, a liability on defense. Santos rightly dropped him in favour of Cedric. 5

 

Midfielders

William Carvalho The holding midfielder replaced Danilo against Austria and put in an outstanding performance helping to drive the attack while supporting the Portuguese backline. Although he made less of an impact from then on, he still provided the stability the team needed. 7

Danilo Pereira The FC Porto midfielder suffered a back injury in the match against Iceland and lost his position in the starting XI to William.  Although, he would make a valuable contribution as a substitute. He filled in for the Sporting midfielder as a starter in the semi-final against Wales and even came close to scoring on one occasion. 6

Renato Sanches Named Best Young Player in the tournament. His long run in extra time against Croatia led to Quaresma’s goal. He scored the tying goal against Poland. Although, he was less of a factor against Wales and in the final. Still, he only added to his burgeoning reputation. It will be almost impossible to top the year he has had. 7

Andre Gomes He earned a starting spot against Iceland and put in an excellent display, creating the goal scored by Nani. But, his injury against Croatia would greatly limit him. He made a positive substitute appearance against Wales but did not appear in the final. 6

Adrien Silva The Sporting captain made his debut in the tournament against Croatia. He earned Fernando Santos’ confidence with some impressive performances on the way to the final. Unselfish, hardworking and tough, he embodies Portugal’s championship-winning side more than anyone. 7

João Moutinho A starter at the beginning of the tournament, the Monaco midfielder was not at his best in the group stage. He was forced to withdraw at half-time against Hungary due to an injury. However, he came in as a late substitute against Poland and provided a dangerous through-ball to Ronaldo, who could not capitalize. He made a major impact as a substitute in the final, helping to create the winning goal. 7

João Mário Much was expected of the Sporting midfielder at the beginning of the tournament. He was noticeably quiet against Iceland and was dropped in favour of Quaresma in the second match. Back as a starter against Hungary he provided an assist on Cristiano Ronaldo’s back-heel goal. His decision-making left much to be desired at times in the knockout stages but he was much better in the final. 7

 

Forwards

Cristiano Ronaldo The Portuguese captain was not always at his best in this tournament. He was a frustrated figure against Iceland and Austria but silenced his critics with a brace against Hungary. He was decisive again in the semi-final against Wales. His tournament seemed destined to end once again in tears when he was forced to withdraw in the final because of a knee injury. But, his teammates rallied around his absence and handed him that elusive championship at international level.  8

Nani The 29-year-old rebuilt his damaged reputation. He finished tied with the team-lead in goals with three and added an assist on Sanches’ goal against Poland. He did all that while playing out of position. His move to Spanish club Valencia was finalized during the tournament.  8

Ricardo Quaresma At 32, the journeyman winger looks to have finally come into his own on the international scene. He was generally ineffective in his only start of the tournament against Austria. However, he proved to be a valuable option off the bench, scoring a late goal against Croatia and then putting away the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Poland. 7

Rafa Silva He was originally expected to play a more prominent role. However, the Braga winger was limited to a short cameo in the late stages of the draw against Austria. He looked dangerous but was not able to break the deadlock. He is one for the future.  Incomplete

Éder Just weeks ago at pre-tournament friendlies the striker was whistled at by Portuguese fans every time he touched the ball. He made short substitute appearances against Iceland and Austria before the final. In a tournament of ample drama and great storylines for Portugal, it seems almost fitting that ‘the ugly duckling’ would score the most famous goal in the country’s history. 7

 

Manager

Fernando Santos He will never earn style points from the mainstream media but the 61-year-old found a way to win. By preaching unity and sacrifice above all, Santos got the most out of his players. He seemed to know how to make changes at the right time. Bringing on Sanches early in the second-half against Croatia and Éder in the final, seemed insane at the time but paid off enormously. 10

Dani Osvaldo FC Porto

Sporting and FC Porto received most of the headlines this weekend after resounding victories in match-day seven of the Primeira Liga season. Both clubs share top spot in the table with 17 points each.

After a famous victory against former manager Jose Mourinho and Chelsea during the week, the Dragões trounced Belenenses 4-0 at home on Sunday. After a scoreless first-half, summer signing Jesús Corona put Porto ahead just after the break. Brahimi, Osvaldo and Marcano rounded out the scoring.

Manager Julen Lopetegui credited his club’s mental strength for the victory.

“We deserved to be winning at half-time, but couldn’t score, despite our superiority, as we missed too many shots. We had several situations to score, played well, facing a team with good players, and we were waiting on the perfect timing. The team had mentality, was capable of working and winning,” he said.

The win may have come at a price. Team captain and defensive-stalwart Maicon may be on the sidelines for a few weeks after leaving the match in the first-half with a thigh injury.

Sporting followed up a disappointing 1-1 draw against Beşiktaş in the Europa League, with a convincing 5-1 win against Vitória Guimarães at Alvalade. Islam Slimani scored a hat-trick, with Teo Gutiérrez and Adrien Silva scoring the other two. It may have been Sporting’s most complete performance of the season.

William Carvalho made his first appearance at Alvalade after returning from a leg injury and looked to be in top form.

“Yes, this performance was a good response. We have worked hard, despite the problems,” he said.

“The objective is to play well and win. Now we have to work hard and think about the next match.”

Last year’s champions Benfica had their match against União de Madeira postponed because of thick fog. A new date has not been announced.

Outside the ‘Big Three,’ Rio Ave is the biggest surprise so far. Pedro Martins’ club sit alone in third position. Braga could only manage a scoreless draw against Arouca but still sit comfortably in fourth position. Benfica rounds off the top five, with one game at hand.

Moreirense and Academica currently sit in the relegation zone with three points each. Academica won their first match of the season beating Marítimo 1-0. Moreirense played Tondela to a 1-1 draw and remain the only club without a league victory this season.

The Liga NOS will now go on a two-week hiatus for the international break and the Portuguese Cup. On 25 October, Benfica and Sporting will clash at the Estádio da Luz. FC Porto will also play Braga.

André Carrillo and Sporting heading for a split?

It looks like André Carrillo is on his way out of Sporting. The Peruvian had not dressed for the club for several matches because of on-going contract negotiations.

Last week, the drama turned into a full-fledged saga when the club announced that they had formally suspended the player. They also released a 32-point press release detailing alleged acts of impropriety by Carrillo and his representatives.

The club accused Carrillo and his people of deliberately sabotaging negotiations. Sporting also accused the player and his representatives of trying to force his way out of the club, among other allegations.

Carrillo was signed by the club in 2011 from Alianza Lima. He was one of the very few good signings by Luís Godinho Lopes. Current club president Bruno de Carvalho spoke about Carrillo on the TVI program Prolongamento on Monday.

“Carrillo told me that he no longer wanted to play for Sporting because he was no longer committed to us,” he said.

“We tried to re-sign Carrillo for a year and a half. In football, there are problems that just cannot be resolved.”

Carrillo’s contract expires this summer which means the club will have to sell him during the January transfer window.

Cristiano Ronaldo hits a milestone and surpasses Raul

It seems like every week Cristiano Ronaldo is breaking a new record. This past week, the Portugal captain scored his 500th career goal and also surpassed Real Madrid legend Raul to become the club’s all-time leading scorer.

Ronaldo was put in alone by Isco in the first-half of Real Madrid’s Champions League match against Malmö FF. And he made no mistake. Late in the second half, he flicked Lucas Vázquez’s pass into the goal, as Real won 2-0.

It has been a long, remarkable journey for the boy from Madeira. He scored his first senior goal for Sporting on 7 October, 2002 against Moreirense. Back then, he was just another in a line of supremely-talented wingers coming out of the club’s Alcochete academy.

So much has happened since then. His transfer to Manchester United, Euro 2004, Germany 2006, Moscow 2008, Real Madrid, Euro 2012, Lisbon 2014 and that special night in Stockholm. Not to mention the three Ballon d’Or.

It is hard to believe that he will ever slow down. Although, his game has changed since he turned 30 last year. Ronaldo seems to have lost the ability to score from free-kicks. And he no longer scores from distance as he once did.

But, his decline appears to be a long way off. Although, he appears to be evolving into a one-touch goalscorer, his production is not dropping. And given his well-known commitment to fitness and his desire, Ronaldo should be able to play at a very high level for several more seasons.

Seleção to face Denmark on Thursday in Braga

Portugal will play Denmark in Braga on Thursday. The Seleção sit first in Group I with 15 points. A draw will be enough to qualify for Euro 2016 next summer. They will travel to Serbia after the match.

“It is true that we are close to qualifying, but we still have a lot to do. It will be two difficult matches [against Denmark and Serbia],” Portugal manager Fernando Santos said.

“Denmark is a club of great quality, both collectively and individually. For Denmark, this is a final because it is their last match of the group. We need to approach this match as a final as well.”

Benfica right-back Nelson Semedo received his first senior call-up. João Moutinho, Tiago and Fábio Coentrão were selected after sitting out previous matches because of injuries. Luis Neto and Rafa Silva also return to the squad.

William Carvalho, Raphael Guerreiro, Andre Gomes, Pepe, Paulo Oliveira and Vieirinha were left out because of injuries or fitness issues. Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was originally selected but was forced to withdraw after coming down with gastroenteritis. Dinamo Zagreb’s Eduardo was named in his place.

Portugal’s U21 squad will continue their Euro 2017 qualifying campaign this week against Hungary, before facing Greece on Tuesday. Rui Jorge’s squad beat Albania 6-1 in their first qualifying match last month. However, they will have to make do without André Silva who is out with an ankle injury.

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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.

Marcos 'Rony' Lopes In Action For Manchester City

Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes In Action For Manchester City

Marcos Lopes is quickly establishing himself as one of the most exciting young players in recent memory thanks to some extraordinary performances.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder recently received his second career start at senior level for Manchester City in a League Cup match against West Ham United. And it did not take him too long to demonstrate what he is capable of.

Just three minutes into the match, Lopes delivered a perfect cross into the box for Spanish international Alvaro Negredo, who would score the opening goal. Later in the first half, he dribbled passed several West Ham defenders before laying it off to Sergio Agüero for the second goal.

Manchester City won 3-0 and Lopes was named the Man of the March. City manager Manuel Pellegrini praised the youngster’s performance.

“Marcos is a young player with a great future,” he said.

“He is just 18 years old and played with the personality he needs to play in our team.”

“I see him work every day of the week, so I was sure he would realize the kind of performance he put on last night.”

“I’m very happy for him because he deserves to do it – and he is a very important player for the future of the club.”

Born Marcos Paulo Mesquita Lopes in Belém, Brazil, his parents emigrated to Portugal when he was four. Lopes has formally committed his international future to Portugal, having already played for the U17s and U19s.

He began playing football with AD Poiares before moving to Benfica’s youth system in 2006. In 2011, the Lisbon club sold the young phenom to Manchester City where he has played in the club’s youth squads. He has begun to make headlines with the senior squad over the last year.

Lopes scored in his first ever appearance for Manchester City’s senior squad in January 2013 in an FA Cup match against Watford after coming on as a late substitute. In doing so, he became the youngest player ever to score for the English club on record.

He would make his first senior start with Manchester City in a League Cup match against Wigan Athletic on September 24th. A week later, he fired home a hat-trick for the youth squad in a 6-0 defeat of Bayern Munich. His reputation has continued to grow since then.

Lopes is an attacking midfielder, who could play out wide, as well as in the middle. He has exceptional dribbling skills, vision, tactical awareness and has demonstrated an ability to score goals as well.

Despite Lopes’ playing style being similar to Ronaldinho, his nickname ‘Rony’ is actually in honour of fellow Brazilian international Ronaldo.

In an October 2013 interview for the Portuguese football publication Record, Lopes explained how the nickname came about.

“I started playing football for my local team (AD Poiares) and I always trained with the shirt of Ronaldo ‘O Fenómeno.’ Everyone started calling me Ronaldo because no one knew my real name. After a while the coach approached me and said that Ronaldo was too long a name and started calling me Rony. Since then that has been my nickname and I have always liked it,” he said.

Every great football nation has a period that is held in regard as a ‘Golden Age.’ Portugal considers the ‘Golden Generation’ that emerged in the 1990s in that way. The squad matured in the early 2000s and included, among others, Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Vito Baia, Paulo Sousa, and Joao Pinto.

The ‘Golden Generation’ propelled Portugal back within the elite of world football but never managed to win a major tournament at senior level.

But over the last few years, a new generation of Portuguese players have begun to emerge that many believe could be the most promising in the country’s history. And there is no player that is held up in higher regard these days, Portuguese or not, than Marcos Lopes.

At 29-years-old, Cristiano Ronaldo is firmly in his prime. But he likely has this year’s World Cup and the 2016 European Championships to deliver his proud nation a major title. And after that, Portugal will be looking for a new leader.

Portugal’s success as a football nation has always fallen on the shoulders of one exceptional player. Luis Figo, Paulo Futre and of course Eusébio, were all seen in the same way during their careers.

But it is a heavy burden to place on a 18-year-old. In an interview with Portuguese news agency Lusa in January, Lopes said that his main focus is to continue to develop as a player.

“I have played for the Under-19 squad and, of course I want to play for the seleção one day. But one step at a time. I know that the manager of the national team needs to evaluate each player’s potential and how they fit into the squad,” Lopes said.

“My main objective right now is to continue to work hard each day and develop into a better player. I have to keep both feet on the ground and take it one day at a time.”

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Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ludovic Péron

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ludovic Péron

The Ballon d’Or, club football’s most prestigious award will be handled out in Zurich, Switzerland on January 13th. If momentum and personal endorsements mean anything at all, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo should collect the prize for the second time in his career.

He faces competition from media-designated rival Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery. Barcelona striker Lionel Messi had another excellent year individually on the way to another La Liga title. French international Ribery was probably the best player in an all-conquering Bayern side that won five trophies in 2013.

The award is given to the best individual performer in football, and on that basis it is very difficult to argue against Cristiano Ronaldo winning this award for a second time. Lionel Messi, again put up outstanding numbers, but he has been sidelined for most of the second half of the year. Ribery had a terrific year but some argue that he was the beneficiary of an excellent Bayern team.

Cristiano Ronaldo was again, outstanding for Real Madrid, despite the club not winning any silverware. He was the leading scorer in the Champions League and finished second to Messi in La Liga scoring. However, it was his performance in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden that probably tipped the balance in his favour.

It would still be unfair to say that the Real Madrid winger will win this award for his performance in one game, out of many. Instead, Cristiano Ronaldo will win the 2013 Ballon d’Or because he is the most deserving overall. His three-goal performance against Sweden to seal Portugal’s place in Brazil was the defining moment of an exceptional year for an exceptional player.

Here are the 5 reasons Cristiano Ronaldo should, and will win this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Cristiano Ronaldo Had The Best Year Individually

As personal statistics are concerned, it was probably the best year of Cristiano Ronaldo’s career. He scored 69 goals in total for Real Madrid and Portugal. He also broke several records, including the most Champions League goals in a calendar year with 15. Ronaldo also broke the record for most goals in the Champions League group stage with nine. And, if that is not enough, he scored in six consecutive Champions League games in 2013.

In comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 69 goals were more than Lionel Messi (45) and Franck Ribery (23) combined. All things considered, could the Argentine captain have outscored the Portuguese if he had remained healthy. Yes, absolutely, especially if you consider the fact that Messi has outscored Ronaldo over the last five seasons, 272 to 253. But, of course, that did not happen. An award like this should only take into account concrete facts.

Cristiano Ronaldo Cannot Be Blamed For Real Madrid’s Problems

The best argument against Ronaldo winning this award is that his club, Real Madrid did not win a single title in 2013. In comparison, his great rival Lionel Messi won another La Liga title. Not to mention, Franck Ribery’s Bayern Munich side which won the Bundesliga title and the Champions League.

But the Ballon d’Or is designed to be awarded to the best individual player in a calendar year. And based on that, the award should still go to Ronaldo. Also, team success has not always been a major factor in awarding the Ballon d’Or. In 2012, Lionel Messi scored an amazing 92 goals in all competitions but Barcelona only won the Copa del Rey that year. Cristiano Ronaldo in comparison, won the La Liga title with Real Madrid and led Portugal to the semi-finals of the European Championships.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is, At The Very Least, A Worthy Rival To Lionel Messi

Over the last decade, the Messi Vs. Ronaldo debate has dominated the public discourse in the football world. In fairness, the Argentine has bested the Portuguese in terms of individual awards and team success. However, many people still think the Portuguese is still an equal, if not more.

The fact is that most people do not blame the Portuguese for the lack of trophies at Real Madrid in his four seasons. It is not like he has not played his part. Ronaldo has scored an amazing 228 goals in 220 matches as of January 3rd for the club. Plus, it has always been dubious to compare a player with another player, especially if they are different types. The fact is that so much comes down to subjectivity. In terms of the all-time greats, Messi and Ronaldo will surely be on any shortlist and let us leave it at that.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is The Most Complete Player Today And One Of The Best All-Time

The Portuguese captain is perhaps the closest player to the definition of an ideal modern footballer. Ronaldo has virtually every tool at his disposal that any manager or pundit could ask for. Judge for yourself: speed, football IQ, dribbling, physique, muscle mass, height, powerful shot, heading ability, kicks with both feet, scores on free-kicks, goals from distance, and plenty more.

His two rivals are exceptional individuals as well. Lionel Messi’s main attribute is his dribbling, which must rank among the best of all-time. Franck Ribery, is a more orthodox winger than the Portuguese. The Frenchmen is a great dribbler, excellent one-on-one, provides accurate crosses and also scores plenty of goals. But in terms of individual ability, Cristiano Ronaldo is the most complete in the game today.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is The Most Valuable Player For Club And Country

Among Madridistas and Portugal supporters, Cristiano Ronaldo is without a doubt the most valuable player on the squad. For Real Madrid, the Portuguese has scored many timely goals for the club and has even pitched in when the club has not always succeeded. For example, he has scored 11 goals in the last 12 matches against Barcelona.

As an international player, Cristiano Ronaldo has had his ups and downs but few argue that he is to blame for Portugal’s inability to win a major tournament. He is currently tied as the country’s all-time leading goal scorer with former PSG striker Pauleta. And he has had success, which has just fallen short. As a youngster he made the finals of Euro 2004. Plus, he made the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012.

Franck Ribery was on the French team that lost to Italy at the 2006 World Cup. But since then, the Bayern Munich winger has not led France past the quarter finals of any tournament. Lionel Messi won an Olympic Gold medal and U20 World Cup, but in major tournaments at the senior level he has been disappointing. But of course, this year’s World Cup is an opportunity for one of these great players to prove all their doubters wrong. At least for now, advantage Cristiano Ronaldo.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer

Portuguese sports website Maisfutebol is reporting that Ricardo Quaresma will sign a two and a half-year deal with FC Porto. The contract could be finalized as early as this week.

The Portuguese winger rescinded his contract with Dubai-based club Al Ahli and is expected to return to the club where he had the best moments of his career. Quaresma would arrive as a free agent which means the club will not pay a transfer fee.

Maisfutebol is reporting that the 30-year-old was in Porto last week and has now settled into a house north of the city. Porto manager Paulo Fonseca is currently planning to integrate Quaresma into training, according to the same reports.

Supremely talented, but with a volatile personality, Ricardo Quaresma never really fulfilled the potential many people had of him when he burst onto the scene.

He is best known for his exceptional ability, in particular the famous ‘trivela,’ which consists of striking the ball with the outside of the foot with great voracity. Goalkeepers were unable to read which direction the ball would be going until it was often too late.

A product of Sporting Lisbon’s famed academy, Ricardo Quaresma dazzled fans in his early days with the club. In 2003, he received his first call-up to the Portuguese national team. His performances earned him a transfer to FC Barcelona that same year.

At this time, most people considered him a better prospect than even Cristiano Ronaldo, who is two years younger. Ronaldo would move to Manchester United in 2003 and the rest as they say is history.

At Barcelona, Quaresma did not have a particularly great season, and fell-out with then manager Frank Rijkaard. A sign of things to come. Refusing to play for the club any longer, Quaresma moved to FC Porto.

Between 2004-08, Quaresma enjoyed the best years of his career. He won three league titles with the club and was named the best player in the league in 2006.

In 2008 he moved to Serie A club Inter Milan, who were then coached by José Mourinho. He saw very little game action over his two years at the Italian club. Quaresma’s attitude is said to have been a problem. He played no role in Inter’s 2009-10 Champions League win.

Quaresma was released ahead of the 2010-11 season. He signed with Turkish club Beşiktaş where he put together some good performances the next two seasons. He was re-called to the Portuguese national team and was even selected for Euro 2012.

But his personality would once again be a problem. At Beşiktaş he clashed with Portuguese manager Carlos Carvalhal and eventually the club released him. He signed with Al Ahli in January 2013.