Posts Tagged ‘Features’

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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2015-16 Team of the Season

Goalkeepers

It was an excellent year for goalkeepers. The nod in goal should go to Sporting and Portugal number one Rui Patricio who had his best season as a professional. Ederson (Benfica) and Gottardi (Arouca) certainly deserve some recognition in this category as well. A special acknowledgement should also go to youngsters Miguel Silva (Vitória Guimarães) and André Moreira (União da Madeira).

Defenders

At the centre-back position, Jardel and Victor Lindelöf helped propel Benfica to the title. It is an unlikely story. Jardel has never been the quickest or most technically-gifted, but has still managed to put together a solid career. Lindelöf began the season with the B squad. Injuries to Luisão and Lisandro Lopez allowed the Swede to establish himself. Together, they were the backbone of the championship-winning side. It is an obvious choice in the end.

At the full-back positions, Porto pair Miguel Layún and Maxi Pereira are the most deserving. Layún finished joint-leader in assists with 15. An amazing total especially for a full-back. He also pitched in five goals. While, Maxi did not miss a beat after making the sensational move to the Dragões. Ruben Semedo was also excellent for Vitoria de Setubal and parent-club Sporting. Marvin Zeegelaar was terrific for Rio Ave in the first-half of the season. And Benfica’s Nelson Semedo was excellent prior to his injury.

Midfielders

There are many good choices in midfield. Danilo Pereira seems like an obvious choice in the role of anchor. The Portuguese international was Porto’s most consistent performer this season. Portugal will have two excellent options in the ‘number 6’ position in France. William Carvalho missed the first several weeks due to a leg injury but eventually found his rhythm.

It would be a crime to overlook Renato Sanches. He only made his debut in late October but there is no denying that Benfica really began to hit their stride with the 18-year-old in his line-up. Despite suffering through injuries, Nicolas Gaitan still managed to lead the league in assists (alongside Layún). João Mário gets the slightest edge over Braga’s Rafa Silva. The Sporting midfielder took a major step forward in his career this season. His Sporting teammate Adrien was consistently good this season. Iuri Medeiros (Moreirense) and Diogo Jota (Paços de Ferreira) established themselves as players to watch.

Forwards

The obvious choices are Jonas and Islam Slimani. Jonas was dominant again this season leading the league in goals again with 32. He also added 14 assists. While Slimani managed to come second in goal with 27. Despite a relatively slow start, Kostas Mitroglou notched 20 goals for Benfica. Outside the “Big Three” Estoril’s Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini is one to watch scoring 17 goals this season. He should move on to a bigger club in the summer.

Bench

Ederson, Ruben Semedo, William, Adrien, Diogo Jota, Iuri Medeiros and Mitroglou.

Renato Sanches - Benfica

The first half of the Primeira Liga (Liga NOS) season officially came to an end this past weekend, making it an ideal time to reflect on some of the best home-grown Revelações. Portugal is in the middle of an exciting emerging generation. And the talent is no longer primarily concentrated among the country’s “Big Three.” Here are just some of the top revelations this season from Portugal.

Rui Silva, Nacional, Goalkeeper

The 21-year-old back-stopper has been one of the most consistent performers this season in the Primeira Liga. Silva replaced the injured Gottardi at half-time in a September match against Academica and has not looked back. Since then, he has conceded only 18 goals in 13 matches, and kept his club in matches against Sporting CP and FC Porto.

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Defensive Midfielder

No list of promising Portuguese players is complete without the FC Porto midfield prodigy. Neves burst on to the scene last season with some impressive performances at the tender age of 17. He has continued to grow this season. In October, he became the youngest captain in the history of the Champions League. And he recently became the youngest player in club history to amass 50 senior matches for the Dragons.

João Palhinha, Moreirense FC, Defensive Midfielder

Portugal has never had a better crop of young defensive midfielders. Palhinha, who is on loan from Sporting, has been terrific this season for Miguel Leal’s club. The 20-year-old possesses a good combination of size, positioning and defensive instincts, making him ideal for the position. Palhinha and fellow Sporting loanee Iuri Medeiros have been fundamental to Moreirense’s turnaround from a poor start.

Renato Sanches, SL Benfica, Central Midfielder

The 18-year-old began the season with Benfica’s B squad but has since solidified his position in Rui Vitoria’s midfield. His individual highlight was a brilliant 40-yard strike against Academica in December. He has also not looked out of place against tougher competition in the Champions League. And the most telling statistic, Benfica has won nine of the ten league matches Sanches has played this season. The only blemish was a scoreless draw against União da Madeira.

Diogo Jota, Paços de Ferreira, Winger

The talented teenager has made a major impact for Paços since his debut in the second-half of last season. Jota has scored five goals and created another six, in 16 matches this season. He has formed a good partnership with Bruno Moreira. And together, they have propelled the club to fifth-place. It seems like Jota is destined to move on to a bigger club this summer. Benfica are said to be very interested.

Honorable Mention

Miguel Silva, Vitória de Guimarães, Goalkeeper
Nélson Semedo, SL Benfica, Right-Back
Rúben Semedo, Vitória Setúbal, Centre Back/Midfielder
André Horta, Vitória Setúbal, Attacking Midfielder
Iuri Medeiros, Moreirense FC, Midfielder/Winger
Gonçalo Guedes, SL Benfica, Winger
Gelson Martins, Sporting CP, Winger

Sporting-Benfica

Lisbon derbys always draw up a lot of excitement in the Portuguese capital. Jorge Jesus’ sensational move from Benfica to Sporting in the summer just added fuel to the already tense rivalry between the two sides. When the final whistle was heard at the Estádio da Luz on Sunday, Jesus had earned the last laugh with a 3-0 victory against his former club.

Despite a positive start for the home side, Sporting managed to grab an early lead when Colombian striker Teo Gutiérrez was able to get on the end of a long pass by Adrien. In the 21st minute, Islam Slimani scored with a thunderous header from a Jefferson cross. And later in the 1st half, Bryan Ruiz pounced on a rebound to put Sporting up 3-0.

Jorge Jesus’ return to the Estádio da Luz could not have gone more to plan. The loss will no doubt sting Benfiquistas supporters as much as it enthralls Sportinguistas.

It was Benfica’s first loss at home in a league match since a 3-2 defeat to FC Porto on 2 March, 2012, ending a run of 55 matches unbeaten. The result also had a far-reaching impact when it comes to the title race. Sporting now sit alone at the top of the table with 20 points after eight matchdays. Benfica remain eight points back, but have played one fewer match than their rivals.

Last year’s champions have now lost the first three matches of the season against the other two members of the ‘Big Three.’ But Benfica will get an opportunity to avenge this loss when they face Sporting again in Portuguese Cup action on 21 November.

What the managers said

Sporting manager Jorge Jesus:

“I did not expect to win 3-0. Did I believe Sporting would win. Yes. But not 3-0.”

“I am very happy to earn three points at the Estádio da Luz, especially considering the environment surrounding this match. I have a lot of respect for our opponents and Benfica. But, I want to give Sporting a lot of credit for the way they played. It is not easy to win 3-0 here.”

“There is a lot of pride in this victory. I spent six years at Benfica and played Sporting 14 times. Sporting only won once. Since I arrived here, we have played Benfica twice and won twice.”

“It was a brilliant victory at a place where I had some brilliant games and brilliant years…I am used to having great moments here [at the Luz]. Sporting played a great match.”

Benfica manager Rui Vitoria:

“It was a very unusual match. We created pressure in the Sporting zone to start, but after a fortunate bounce, they scored. That got into our player’s heads. Afterwards, we raised our game again, but Sporting scored a second and a third. It was a very unjust match because we thought that we were playing well. Sporting really took their opportunities.”

“I have gone through much worse professionally and personally. We do not want to go through moments like this but it is part of the growing process. We need to remember that we are Benfica and at this club we fight until the very end.”

“It is important to know that when we lose we need to be able to analyze. I have gone through a lot but this is one of the worst results I have been a part of.”

FC Porto held by Braga

FC Porto missed their chance to catch Sporting in the late match on Sunday. Julen Lopetegui’s side were unable to solve Braga and had to settle for a scoreless draw. They now sit in 2nd spot, two points behind Sporting. After the match, Lopetegui downplayed the significance.

“We are going into the 9th matchday. There is still a lot of time left. We are on a positive path and if we continue, we will be champions in the end.”

“We put a lot of players forward [against Braga]. We finished the match with three defenders and only one midfielder. We were in control throughout the match. But if we do not score, football will punish you.”

It was another positive result for Paulo Fonseca’s Braga club. Os Arsenalistas beat French giants Olympique Marseille in the Europa League on Thursday to bring their group stage record to three wins from three. The draw at the Estádio do Dragão means they sit in 4th position in the Primeira Liga.

In other action, Rio Ave gave up a late lead to Estoril and drew 2-2. Both clubs finished the match with ten men. Pedro Martins’ side remain in third place. Belenenses’ moved up to 10th in the table after a 1-0 victory against União da Madeira in the Monday night match. Second half substitute Tiago Caeiro scored in the 90th minute to give his team the victory.

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.

Carlos Mane Sporting

Portugal’s performance at the FIFA U20 World Cup and UEFA U21 European Championships strengthened the perception that Portuguese football is on the ascendency once again.

Andre Gomes, William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva are just some of the players that have established themselves over the past few seasons. The editors of FutebolFactory.com and PortugalFutbol.net have compiled a list of ten players who they think could make a big breakthrough this season.

José Sá, Maritmo, Goalkeeper

The 22-year-old was excellent this summer at the U21 UEFA European Championships as Portugal’s first-choice backstopper. He conceded only one goal in five match in the tournament before losing to Sweden on penalties in the final.

Sá has only appeared in 11 matches with the senior squad over the last two seasons and has spent most of his time with Maritmo B in the Segunda Liga. Manager Ivo Vieira could turn to Sá if last season’s first-choice Romain Salin falters.

Tobias Figueiredo, Sporting, Centre Back

Long touted as one of Sporting’s finest youth prospects, Tobias Figueiredo began to establish himself in the second-half of last season with the club. From January forward, Tobias managed 12 league starts, which helped him earn a place on the Portuguese squad for the U-21 European Championships.

This season, Tobias faces strong competition at Sporting, now that the club has purchased experienced defenders Naldo and Ewerton. However, he could manage to earn some more playing time under Jorge Jesus, especially in Cup competitions.

João Cancelo, Valencia, Right Back

A product of Benfica’s youth academy, João Cancelo joined Valencia on loan from the Portuguese club last summer. After playing a back-up role in his first season, Valencia purchased Cancelo for €15 million this summer. This season, it remains unclear Cancelo will play a bigger role at the club.

An attacking full-back by trade, Cancelo is just as comfortable going forward and attacking as he is in one-on-one defensive situations. The 21-year-old was also part of Portugal’s U-21 European Championships squad this summer.

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Defensive Midfielder

It was a dream start to his career for the then 17-year-old last season. He earned a start in Porto’s first match of the season, scoring a goal against Marítimo, becoming the youngest goalscorer in history for the club. He made his first appearance in the Champions league just days later.

However, the emergence of Casemiro and a serious knee injury in December threw his season off course. The 18-year-old has talent in abundance and should have the opportunity to play a bigger role with the club this season.

João Teixeira, Benfica, Midfielder

Last summer, Teixeira was impressive during Benfica’s pre-season, and all signs were pointing towards then-coach Jorge Jesus giving the midfielder a place in the first team. Teixeira was instead relegated to the B team, where he still managed to be one of their top performers.

With Rui Vitoria now in charge at the Luz, it is unclear where Teixeira will fit in the pecking order. Teixeira has been a key figure for Benfica B for over two seasons now, and a promotion to the senior team cannot be far away.

Carlos Mané, Sporting, Winger

The 21-year old has been part of the supporting cast for the club over the last few season. Last year, he managed an impressive nine goals in 41 appearances for Sporting in all competitions. Nani’s departure leaves the door open for Mané to establish himself this season.

Mané comes from a long tradition of skilled wingers that have emerged from the club’s famed academy at Alcochete. He could play on both flanks and has developed a reputation for scoring quality goals. He should flourish in Jorge Jesus’ preferred 4-4-2 formation which will allow him more freedom to drift inside.

Bruma, Real Sociedad (On loan from Galatasaray), Winger

An exciting prospect who burst on to the scene with some electrifying displays for Sporting in 2013. A contract dispute eventually lead to him moving to Turkish club Galatasaray that summer. Two full season’s gone and the talented winger has yet to live up to his immense potential.

A move to La Liga club Real Sociedad could be exactly what he needs. Manager David Moyes developed the reputation for nurturing young talent during his days with Everton. And the Basque club should improve on their 12th place finish from a year ago after some quality signings.

Gonçalo Guedes, Benfica, Winger

Another supremely talented winger. The 18-year-old made his first appearances for Benfica last season but spent most of the campaign with the B squad where he was named the Breakthrough Player of the Season in Portugal’s Segunda Liga.

With Eduardo Salvio facing a long recovery time because of a knee injury, Guedes could see more playing time this season. Benfica’s new manager Rui Vitoria spent some time with the club’s youth academy in the past and could give Guedes and others a chance to flourish.

Ivan Cavaleiro, AS Monaco, Winger

Cavaleiro spent last season on loan at struggling La Liga side Deportivo but still managed more than a few positive moments. He was named to the Team of the Tournament at the U-21 UEFA European Championships and soon after signed with Ligue 1 club AS Monaco.

The club is managed by former Braga and Sporting manager Leonardo Jardim, and boasts several Portuguese internationals which should help Cavaleiro adjust to the new situation. Early signs suggest that Jardim has every intention of making the winger an integral part of his Monaco machine.

Gonçalo Paciência, Académica de Coimbra (On loan from FC Porto), Striker

For some time, the Portuguese National Team has been seriously lacking a quality striker. Since the retirement of Pauleta, Portugal has used several players with Hélder Postiga being the only one to provide any real consistency. Paciência offers the best long-term hope.

He will spent this season on loan at Primeira Liga club Académica, his first full season in top flight. Many Portuguese fans will be watching intently to see how he performs. If he can replicate some of his performances at youth level where he is a prolific goalscorer, Portugal may just resolve their striker conundrum.

This article was a collaboration between Rui Miguel Martins of FutebolFactory.com and Sam Biggers of PortugalFutbol.net.

FUTEBOL - Joao Mario jogador do Sporting, no jogo Sporting vs Benfica referente a 20ª jornada da I Liga 2014/15, realizado no Estadio Jose de Alvalade, em Lisboa. Domingo 8 de Fevereiro de 2015. (ASF/RUI RAIMUNDO)

João Mário Was One of the Best Young Players in the Portuguese League This Season

In the summer, the editors of Futebol Factory and PortugalFutbol.net put together a list of 10 players that could make a positive impact at club level for the first time. Now that the season has finished, we decided to assess each player’s progress and assign a final grade.

Rúben Vezo, Valencia, Central Defender

Valencia’s impressive season has in part been because of the team’s impressive defensive record. Los Che conceded only 32 goals in 2014-15. At the heart of this impressive defense were Nicolás Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi, meaning Ruben Vezo only managed seven league appearances for Valencia this term. Still, Vezo impressed when given the chance to play, and with Otamendi touted to make a big-money move away from Valencia this summer, Vezo may get his chance next season. Grade: B-

Raphaël Guerreiro, FC Lorient, Left-Back

Guerreiro had a positive first season in the French top flight a year ago but he has taken a big leap this season. The 21-year-old was moved to the left side of midfield at Lorient by manager Sylvain Ripoll early in the season which seemed to unleash his potential. He made his debut for the senior Seleção in November against Armenia and scored a late winner at Old Trafford against Argentina just days later. He scored seven goals this season in Ligue 1. He seems destined to move to a bigger club this summer. Grade: A-

João Teixeira, Benfica, Midfielder

The young midfielder was very impressive during Benfica’s summer tour and it appeared likely that he was going to play a role this season. However, it just did not happen. One solitary appearance in the Champions League in December is all he could manage for the main squad. Still, he was an important figure for Benfica B and remains one of the club’s best young prospects. Grade: D+/Incomplete

André Gomes, Valencia, Midfielder

From Benfica benchwarmer to one of the hottest commodities around. Attacking midfielder André Gomes was a central figure in Valencia’s resurgence this season, helping them qualify for the Champions League. He scored his first goal of the season in September against Getafe and was also named to La Liga’s Team of the Month. He is now drawing interest from Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United Grade: A

João Mário, Sporting Lisbon, Attacking Midfielder

The next big thing to come out of Sporting’s academy. João Mário had a positive loan spell at Vitória Setúbal a year ago but still began this season as André Martins’ understudy. In late September, with Martins faltering, Sporting manager Marco Silva gave João Mário a start against Gil Vicente. He created two goals in the 4-0 victory and remained first-choice from then on. He has also become a permanent member of the senior Seleção. Grade: A-

Bruno Fernandes, Udinese Calcio, Attacking Midfielder

At only 20 years of age, Bruno Fernandes already has two seasons of top-flight football behind him. He followed up his impressive debut season with a more underwhelming one this time around. Fernandes recorded five goals and five assists in 24 matches last season. This term, he only managed two goals and one assist in 29 matches. Fernandes still managed to score an impressive goal against Inter Milan in a Serie A match in December but faltered in the second half of the season as his opportunities became more limited. He will certainly be looking to improve next season. Grade: B-

Tozé, GD Estoril-Praia (On Loan From FC Porto), Attacking Midfielder

Tozé joined Estoril on a two-season loan deal from FC Porto at the beginning of this season, and has since hit the ground running. After scoring 21 goals from midfield last season for Porto B, many were wondering if Tozé could manage such an impact in the Portuguese top flight. Although not as prolific as last season, he established himself as one of Estoril’s most vital attacking players. With another season likely at Estoril, we can expect more of the same from Tozé. Grade: B+

Marcos Lopes, Lille OSC (On Loan From Manchester City), Attacking Midfielder

It was not a very positive first half of the season for Marcos Lopes. He struggled with a nagging hamstring injury that saw him miss more than two months. However, he returned in January with a renewed sense of purpose. He had a memorable match against French giants Lyon in February, scoring a goal with a brilliant left-footed strike that gave Lille the 2-1 victory. He is currently on duty with Portugal at the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Grade: B+

Bruma, Galatasaray, Winger

Bruma suffered a serious knee injury last season which saw him missed 6 months of action. He began this season healthy but soon fell out of favour with then manager Cesare Prandelli. A string of bad results led to Prandelli’s eventual sacking. When new coach Hamza Hamzaoğlu took charge, Bruma returned to his spot in Galatasaray’s starting XI. Since then, Bruma has performed admirably, but has yet to truly reach the heights many expect of him. Grade: B+

Ricardo Horta, Málaga, Winger

Málaga’s 20 year-old winger has enjoyed a largely successful first season at the Spanish club. After arriving from Vitória Setúbal in the summer, Horta had to adapt quickly to the more challenging La Liga. Despite some impressive performances in the Copa del Rey and La Liga, Horta’s season was that of adjustment, and not of consistency. He saw less action in the second half of the season when Málaga began challenging for a Europa League position. Grade: B-

Players We Missed

Sérgio Oliveira, Paços Ferreira, Central Midfielder

The 22-year-old has steadily rebuilt his career after moving to Paços from FC Porto last season. He was the driving force behind a much improved side this season. And he captained Portugal’s Under-21 squad to qualification for the European Championships. A move back to Porto is now in the cards. Grade: B+

Bernardo Silva, AS Monaco, Attacking Midfielder

The 20 year-old has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the last year. His loan to AS Monaco caught many by surprise last summer, but the left-footed maestro has thrived under former Sporting manager Leonardo Jardim. He made his senior Seleção debut against Cape Verde in March, and he should be one of the players to watch at this summer’s U-21 European Championships. Grade: A

Hernâni, Vitória Guimarães/FC Porto, Winger

After a stellar first half of the season for Vitória Guimarães, Hernâni earned a move to FC Porto in January. Though he found playing time at a premium at Porto, Hernâni did manage some impressive, if brief, cameos. Next season, Hernâni will certainly hope to win a starting position and rediscover his terrific form. Grade: B

Carlos Mané, Sporting Lisbon, Winger

After breaking into the Sporting Lisbon setup last season, Carlos Mané enjoyed a successful follow-up season this term. Competing with Nani and André Carrillo, Mané still managed to make a positive impact primarily as a substitute. With Nani’s expected departure from Sporting this summer, Mané could establish himself as a regular starter next season. Grade: B+

This article was a collaboration between Rui Miguel Martins of FutebolFactory.com and Sam Biggers of PortugalFutbol.net.

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Benfica Champions 2014-15

Benfica’s goalless draw with Vitória Guimarães on Sunday was enough to clinch the Liga NOS title for a second consecutive season with one match to spare. It was their 34th Portuguese League title, the most of any club. No club in the top 6 European leagues has more.

It also marked the first time since 1984 that As Águias won the title in back-to-back years. It seems like manager Jorge Jesus has finally accomplished what he was brought in to do and that is break FC Porto’s dominance in Portugal. At least for now.

Here are the 5 reasons Benfica won the Portuguese title this season.

Jorge Jesus’ Adjustments

Benfica lost several key players from last season’s championship-winning side. It is certainly not easy for any manager to integrate so many new players into the squad. Andreas Samaris, Talisca and Jonas proved to be adequate replacements.

When Enzo Perez left during the January transfer window, Jorge Jesus managed to find a replacement within the squad by converting Pizzi into a central midfielder. Although Lima and Jardel struggled at times during the season, Jesus stuck with them and was richly rewarded in the end.

Jonas

The Brazilian has to go down as one of the best signings of the season. It sounded like an odd signing at first. Jonas, a 30-year-old striker, out of contract at Valencia, who would never command a large payout for the Portuguese club.

Still, he proved to be exactly what the club needed. Jonas scored a goal in his first match with the club in October and has hardly stopped since then. With a match to spare, Jonas was second in the league with 18 markers in 26 matches.

Júlio César

He was once touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world but Júlio César has had a rough go since leaving Inter Milan in 2012. He passed through Queens Park Rangers before ending up on-loan at Toronto FC in MLS. And there was the matter of the seven goals against Germany in the service of Brazil last summer.

Benfica, still reeling from the abrupt departure of Jan Oblak, decided to take a chance on the Brazilian. It proved to be another masterstroke. The now 34-year-old has made the most of his Portuguese adventure. He has earned an impressive 15 clean sheets.

Early European Exit

European competitions have always been a mixed blessing for Portuguese clubs. And like we saw this season, an early exit from competition could have a positive impact on a club’s domestic form. Benfica, once again failed to advance passed the group stage of the Champions League.

From the time the club played their last match in the Champions League in December, Benfica lost only two matches in the league the rest of the way. FC Porto and Sporting’s domestic form seemed to suffer as the season progressed, while Benfica only got stronger.

Head-to-Head Record Against Sporting and Porto

Benfica managed one victory and three draws against the other two members of Portugal’s ‘Big Three’ clubs. The club’s 2-0 victory at the Dragão in December was the difference in the end. It was the first time Benfica beat FC Porto away in the league in Jorge Jesus’ tenure as manager.

Jesus’ critics would argue that Benfica did not show up out to win the April 26th O Clássico against Porto, it really matters little in the end. Benfica put themselves in the position to dictate terms with their stellar league form. They proved themselves worthy champions.

Photo: FPF

Photo: FPF

Marcos Lopes, Gonçalo Guedes, and FC Porto pair Tomás Podstawski and André Silva, are just some of the biggest names that will represent Portugal at this summer’s Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Under-20 boss Hélio Sousa made the announcement at an official press conference on Friday.

Portugal are paired with Senegal, Qatar and Colombia in Group C. The Seleção das Quinas is a two-time winner (1989, 1991) of this tournament and should be among the favourites this time around.

The players are expected to start arriving at Rio Maior on May 11th for a short training camp. Five days later they will travel to Sydney, Australia for some pre-tournament friendlies against Brazil and Ghana. The tournament begins in earnest on May 30th. Portugal plays Senegal in Hamilton a day later.

When asked about whether Portugal can win their third title, Manager Sousa stressed that the squad needs to remain focused and take it a game at a time. “Our objective is to win every game we play. Every game will be a final. We will play three games in six days to start and we cannot become complacent. We need to work hard. Where will that take us? The furthest possible, I hope,” Sousa said.

“History matters. Each country has some history at this tournament. Argentina, Brazil, both have a lot of experience and have won many tournaments at this level.”

Notable Matches:

May 31st: Portugal vs. Senegal

June 3rd: Portugal vs. Qatar

June 6th: Portugal vs. Colombia

June 10th/11th: Round of 16

June 14th: Quarter-Finals

June 17th: Semi-Finals

June 20th: Third-Place Match and Final

Full Squad

Goalkeeper: André Moreira (Moreirense FC), Guilherme Oliveira (Sporting) and Tiago Sá (SC Braga)

Defenders: Dinis Almeida (CF Réus), Domingos Duarte (Sporting Lisbon), João Nunes (Benfica), Mauro Riquicho (Sporting), Rafa (FC Porto) and Rebocho (Benfica)

Midfielders: Estrela (Orlando City), Francisco Ramos (FC Porto), Janio Bikel (SC Heerenveen), Raphael Guzzo (GD Chaves), Rony Lopes (Lille OSC) and Tomás Podstawski (FC Porto)

Forwards: André Silva (FC Porto), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Gonçalo Guedes (Benfica), Ivo Rodrigues (Vitória SC), João Vigário (Vitória SC) and Nuno Santos (Benfica)

Related Posts:

PortuGoal.net: Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes Scaling New Heights

PortuGoal.net: Are Portugal on the Verge of Another Golden Generation?

Important Links:

FPF Website: Hélio Sousa Announces Under-20 Squad

FIFA Website: FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015

Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes has been terrific this season

Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes has been terrific this season

There is no question that the Portuguese national team is in a transitional phase. The Selecção’s group stage exit in Brazil just reinforced the claim that the squad will look very different in the next few years. There has perhaps never been a time in recent memory when the country has had so many promising young players.

In the summer, we chose ten that we thought would be able to make a positive impact at club level this season. Since then, four of these players have made their debuts for the senior Selecção, to go along with André Gomes and Bruma who had been selected before. This article will look at the progress of each player and will assign them a grade based on their development so far.

Rúben Vezo, Valencia, Central Defender

The 20-year-old started this season in positive form, starting Valencia’s first five league matches. But since then, he lost his place to the more experienced Shkodran Mustafi. The positive play of former Porto defender Nicolas Otamendi has also made it difficult for him to find playing time. He still looked confident and demonstrated some good awareness in limited action. The youngster has a very bright future but needs to continue to develop his game. For now, he sits and waits. Grade: B-

Raphaël Guerreiro, FC Lorient, Left-Back

The 21-year-old has continued to add to his impressive reputation. Fernando Santos gave him his first start in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Armenia, where he was excellent. But that was just the beginning. In the next game against Argentina, he scored deep into injury time with a brilliant header that brought Old Trafford to its feet and gave Portugal the win. At club level, he has been used primarily as a left midfielder, a role that he has performed well. He has notched five goals so far for Lorient. Grade: A

João Teixeira, Benfica, Midfielder

Despite some impressive performances in the pre-season, Texieira has not been given many first-team opportunities, even with the injuries Benfica have had this season. Teixeira has been limited to Benfica’s B team, where he remains one of the top performers. That said, Teixeira has continued to push closer to the main squad throughout this season. And with Jorge Jesus’s renewed youth policy, it should only be a matter of time before Teixeira gets his chance. He might have to go out on loan before that happens. Grade: C-

André Gomes, Valencia, Midfielder

Gomes’ surprise move to Valencia this summer left many people wondering if it was the best thing for his development. At that point, he had barely been able to hold a steady position at Benfica. But the midfielder has established himself as the driving force behind Los Che. The 21-year-old appears to be thriving under Portuguese manager Nuno Espírito Santo, and his club is challenging for a Champions League position for next season. He was named to the Team of the Month for September as well. Grade: A+

João Mário, Sporting Lisbon, Attacking Midfielder

The youngster has been one of the best revelations this season in the Primeira Liga. After beginning the season primarily as a bench player, Sporting manager Marco Silva handed him his first start in a 4-0 victory against Gil Vicente on September 21st, pitching in two assists. Soon after, Fernando Santos came calling. He made his Selecção debut against France as a second half substitute in October. He has demonstrated in recent matches that he needs to work on his consistency. But there is no question that João Mário has the talent to be an elite player and he is well on his way. Grade: A-

Bruno Fernandes, Udinese Calcio, Attacking Midfielder

20-year-old Bruno Fernandes has continued to thrive in Serie A this season. Under new manager Andrea Stramaccioni, he has continued to improve his game despite than necessarily being a regular starter. He scored a memorable goal in December against Inter Milan, delivering a snap-shot that fooled Samir Handanovič. Udinese would go on to win the match 2-1. Like João Mário, Fernandes is a playmaker with excellent vision and an innate ability to read the game. But like many young players, consistency and discipline has been a problem. Grade: B

Tozé, GD Estoril-Praia (On Loan From FC Porto), Attacking Midfielder

Another supremely-talented attacking midfielder, the 22-year-old Tozé has had a positive start to life in the Portuguese top-flight. Under José Couceiro, he has been an integral part of the Estoril attack. Couceiro has primarily used Tozé at his natural position in the middle behind the striker. He has demonstrated the vision, technical skill and awareness that made him a force in Porto’s B squad last season. He still remains far from a finished product. He still commits far too many fouls and is occasionally wasteful in possession. Grade: B

Marcos Lopes, Lille OSC (On Loan From Manchester City), Attacking Midfielder

It has not been the most positive first-half of the season for ‘Rony’ Lopes. The 18-year-old was starting to solidify a place in the Lille squad when he suffered a hamstring injury against Bastia back on 27 September.He made his return against Saint Etienne on November 1st, even providing a clever assist on a goal by Michael Frey in the first-half. However, Lopes aggravated his injury and came off just before the half. He returned to action recently after missing more than two months and has appeared in only 10 Ligue 1 matches so far. If he remains healthy, Lopes has the biggest potential for improvement of any player on the list. Grade: C+

Bruma, Galatasaray, Winger

The beginning of this season was filled with nothing but uncertainty for Bruma. He was coming off a serious knee injury but was healthy again. Galatasaray had a new manager in Cesare Prandelli. Things have not gone as Bruma hoped, with Prandelli favoring other players. His lack of playing time coincided with poor results at Galatasaray, and Prandelli was sacked in late November, after only managing six wins in sixteen games. Under Prandelli’s replacement Hamza Hamzaoglu, Bruma has been playing much more often, and his season appears to be back on track. Grade: B-

Ricardo Horta, Málaga, Winger

Horta joined Malaga from Vitoria Setubal in the summer after an impressive 2013/2014 season. After a positive start to the season, his performances began to trail off somewhat. Since then, manager Javi Gracia has primarily used him as an impact sub. He scored a wonderful goal in the first leg of his team’s Spanish Cup tie against Levante in early January, and followed it up with another goal in the return leg. It is clear that Ricardo Horta needs more time to adjust to life in La Liga, but the signs are mostly positive, with plenty of room for growth. Grade: B-

Players We Missed

Josué Sá, Vitória Guimarães, Central Defender

After starting this season with his club’s B team, Josué Sá made the step up to the first team in October. Playing alongside the impressive João Afonso, he has figured more and more as the season has progressed. He has made big strides and has plenty of room for growth. Grade: B

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Defensive Midfielder

Rúben Neves’s performances in the pre-season were impressive enough to earn him a start in Porto’s first match of the season against Maritimo. He made the most of it, scoring a goal to become the youngest player to do so for his club. However, a dip in form in in November, combined with a knee injury means that he is no longer first-choice. Grade: B+

Sérgio Oliveira, Paços Ferreira, Central Midfielder

He had a positive first season on a bad Paços de Ferreira club a year ago. This season under Paulo Fonseca, he has thrived in a more withdrawn, defensive-minded role in midfield. He is currently one of the club’s most important players and has demonstrated that he is on the right path in his development. Grade: B

Bernardo Silva, AS Monaco (On Loan from Benfica), Attacking Midfielder

Originally not expected to play a major role at the French club, the 20-year-old has won over the confidence of Leonardo Jardim. He played in the Champions League. And helped the U-21 squad overcome Holland in a playoff to qualify for the European Championships, scoring an impressive goal in the second-leg. Grade: B+

Carlos Mané, Sporting Lisbon, Winger

Play time has not come easy for the 20-year-old this season especially with the arrival of Nani. However, he has made the most of it, scoring several crucial goals including an injury time winner against Arouca early in the season. He also scored a memorable goal in the U-21 playoffs for Portugal dribbling past a defender. Grade: B-

Hernâni, Vitória de Guimarães, Winger

He has come out of complete obscurity to become one of Vitória de Guimarães’ most important players this season. He was named the best young player in October and November and seems destined to play for one of the ‘Big Three’ in the future. Grade: B+

This article was a collaboration between Rui Miguel Martins of FutebolFactory.com and Sam Biggers of PortugalFutbol.net.

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