Posts Tagged ‘Selecao’

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.

Bruno-Fernandes-Udinese

Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes has enjoyed a very quick rise to stardom over the last two seasons. The 19-year-old is a former Pasteleira and Boavista youth player who signed with Italian club Novara in the summer of 2012.

The Italian club was playing in Serie B at the time, Italy’s second division. Since then, the young midfielder has impressed with his creativity, vision, passing and dribbling skills.

Fernandes began last season with the reserves, but by December he had earned a starting position with the main squad. He would help Novara reach promotion to Serie A via a playoff against Empoli, scoring four goals in 23 matches along the way.

Fernandes signed with top-flight club Udinese this past summer and his star has continued to rise. Again, expected to be a marginal figure, the 19-year-old made his first competitive appearance for the club in a November League match against Inter Milan. Since then, Fernandes has been a regular starter with the Italian club.

In a very short period of time, the Portuguese has become the focal point of attack for a young Udinese side. He has mainly played in a playmaker or ‘number 10’ role behind a striker this season.

Fernandes scored his first goal in Serie A in a December 7th match against Napoli at the San Paulo Stadium. With Udinese down 2-1 in the 70th minute, Fernandes received the ball at the centre of the pitch and delivered a good shot passed Napoli goalkeeper Rafael. The match would end in a 3-3 draw.

“It felt great scoring a goal against Napoli, one of the strongest clubs in Italy,” he told Portuguese website Maisfutebol Total.

“I was so emotional that I did not even think about celebrating the goal. I wanted to at least hug my teammates. I thought about those who have not played and the fans,” he added. “I found room and decided to shoot, not thinking very much about where to place the ball. I did not realize at first that I had scored.”

Fernandes is part of a very promising generation of Portuguese midfielders. A group that includes Manchester City’s Marcos Lopes, Liverpool’s João Carlos Teixeira, Benfica’s André Gomes and Bernardo Silva, among others. But like most of these players, Fernandes never played for one of Portugal’s Os Três Grandes or Big Three.

The Udinese midfielder is an unlikely success story. Portugal’s midfield is expected to be highly congested in a few years but Fernandes has a key advantage over many of his compatriots. At only 19, he is playing regularly for a top-flight club in one of Europe’s top three leagues.

In a February 2014 interview with the Portuguese news agency Lusa, Fernandes revealed that this past summer, he almost went on loan to English club Watford. But Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin decided it was better for him to stay.

“I ended up staying in the end, kept working hard, and eventually earned my spot after playing in club friendlies. The season began badly, we were eliminated from Europe. I earned the confidence of the manager, and after the match with Inter Milan I had more opportunities,” Fernandes said.

“I am lucky to have a manager who is not afraid to take risks.”

Finally, his home country is starting to take notice of his talent. Fernandes was chosen for the U-19 squad in 2012 when he was with Novara. And he was also recently selected to train with the U-20 Portugal squad.

Portugal’s senior squad has been without a natural playmaker since the retirement of Brazilian-born Deco after the 2010 World Cup. Fernandes’ playing style has most often been compared with former Benfica, Fiorentina and AC Milan midfielder Rui Costa.

“I do not think I have done enough to be compared with him (Costa). I do not think it is fair. I have to continue to work hard because one day, another young player could emerge here who wants to be like me,” he said in the December 2013 interview with Maisfutebol Total.

“He (Rui Costa) was a player I extremely admired. He had an incredible career but just fell short of winning something with the Seleção at Euro 2004. It was a great opportunity. I will never forget the goal against England, which raised everyone’s hopes. He is a great player to look up to.”

Nani At Euro 2012  Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Nani At Euro 2012 Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Cristiano Ronaldo’s inspirational performance in the two-legged playoffs against Sweden has confirmed Portugal’s place in next year’s World Cup in Brazil.

But after a poor qualifying campaign, many doubts remain over whether the Selecção could reach another semi-final.

Despite having one of the greatest players in history, it is the supporting cast that is most important to Portugal’s success. Cristiano Ronaldo will produce so long as the rest of the squad plays well around him.

That said, many established internationals who have formed the core of the Selecção in recent years have not performed to their potential, either at club level or with Portugal.

Here is a list of Portuguese players who need to improve before the World Cup.

Rui Patrício, Sporting Lisbon, Goalkeeper

Portugal’s number one goalkeeper since the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Sporting Lisbon’s Rui Patricio is an excellent shot blocker and is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, usually. So far this season, however, Patricio has made some high-profile blunders.

The latest came in a Portuguese Cup match against league rivals Benfica, when Patricio let a lazy header slip in through his legs. But before that, in a crucial World Cup Qualifying match against Israel, Patricio’s careless pass lead to an equalizing goal. The match ended 1-1 and a win could have meant automatic qualification for Portugal.

But like any quality goalkeeper, Rui Patricio recovered with ease against Sweden. In the first leg in Lisbon he made a brilliant save in the first half to keep the match scoreless. In the second leg, he stopped Sebastian Larsson in close, just moments before Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal of the match. He also could not be blamed for the two Swedish goals. Unless his club form dips significantly, Patricio is likely to continue as Portugal’s first-choice and he needs to be solid.

João Pereira, Valencia, Right-Back

The Valencia right-back has battled injuries and struggled with his fitness so far this year. His form since the Euro 2012 has not been to the standard that many would expect either. Pereira, who only stands at 1,72m, has struggled against more physical teams like Sweden.

Benfica’s André Almeida filled in admirably for Pereira in Portugal’s final two qualifying matches, but it appears unlikely that Bento will drop Pereira any time soon. Almeida and Sporting Lisbon’s Cédric Soares are excellent options at right-back but they lack the experience of Pereira.

Miguel Veloso, Dynamo Kyiv, Defensive Midfielder

The former captain of Sporting Lisbon is a free-kick specialist who probably deserves to be on a bigger club than Dynamo Kyiv. He provided the perfect cross for Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in Lisbon against Sweden. But the problem with Veloso is that he is not a real defensive midfielder.

The 27-year old has performed the role well but he is more naturally a midfield creator or number eight-type player. Paulo Bento uses him in defensive midfield because of the absence of a quality option in that position. Veloso lacks the tackling ability and physicality to be considered a ‘true’ defensive midfielder. However, Veloso finally has competition with the emergence of Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho.

Rúben Micael, Sporting Braga, Midfielder

The Sporting Braga midfielder has been consistently called-up to the Selecção during the Bento era, and was once first-choice. However, over the last year, Micael has not performed to a level that many would expect. Now, with the emergence of Josué, André Martins, Adrien Silva and others Micael could conceivably not be selected for the World Cup.

Sporting Braga have endured a difficult start to the season and Micael’s performances have reflected that. But there are many months before the final squad is chosen and Micael should receive some playing time in upcoming friendlies. At the highest stage, experience is important and that may just make the difference for Micael.

Raul Meireles, Fenerbahçe, Midfielder

The 30-year old midfielder has been the object of much criticism for his play since moving to Turkey a year ago. The former Porto and Liverpool midfielder has seen the offensive side of his game decline in that time. However, there is no doubt that he still brings a lot to the club.

Meireles’ main attributes are his pace, tackling ability and strength in possession. Despite no longer creating many scoring opportunities, he has continued to produce in other ways for Portugal. Like Micael, his experience is very valuable in a major tournament. It was Meireles who scored both goals in Portugal’s 2-0 aggregate victory against Bosnia to reach the World Cup in 2010. Plus, he scored the first goal in Portugal’s 7-0 group stage victory over North Korea.

Nani, Manchester United, Winger

The great paradox of Portuguese football. On the one hand, Nani is an explosive forward who has the ability to take control of a game. However, he is also wasteful, inconsistent, injury-prone and tends to make poor decisions.

He had a good Euro 2012, helping Portugal reach the semi-finals, but has since struggled to rediscover that form. He is also still trying to regain match fitness after a groin injury. However, he was given a new contract and a boost of confidence by Manchester United, raising hopes that maybe Nani will still reach the potential he demonstrated only a few years ago.

At 27-years of age, he is by no means running out of time. His career could unfold like that of Franck Ribéry, who for years struggled with injuries and inconsistency. But at this point, Nani could just as easily become the next Ricardo Quaresma. Portugal needs him to be the former and now.

Pizzi, Espanyol (On Loan From Benfica), Winger

A supremely talented forward whose rights were purchased by Benfica this summer from Atlético Madrid. The 24-year old has been in disappointing form this season on loan at La Liga club Espanyol after an impressive breakout season last year.

There does not seem to be any apparent reason why Pizzi has failed to adjust to life at the Spanish club. Manager Javier Aguirre has played him on the wings and down the middle with little success. Portugal is extremely deep on the wings and Pizzi’s spot in Brazil is in serious doubt unless he begins to produce again.

Éder, Sporting Braga, Striker

Portugal’s great hope at the centre-forward position. Éder has quick feet, is good in the air, and has excellent intelligence. He scored 13 goals in 18 League matches last year before suffering a major knee injury in a League Cup match against Benfica in March.

After missing 6 months, Éder has returned to game action in good form although he does not have much in the way of goals so far. For Éder it is important that Sporting Braga overcomes the difficulties of this early season. With Hélder Postiga ageing, Éder could conceivably be Portugal’s first-choice striker by the beginning of the World Cup.

Nélson Oliveira, Stade Rennais F.C (On Loan From Benfica), Striker

22-year old Nélson Oliveira has been impressive this season while on loan at French club Stade Rennais. He has scored seven goals in 12 league matches so far after scoring only four all of last season with Deportivo La Coruña as part of the ill-fated Portuguese experiment.

Manager Paulo Bento has shown some great faith in him, despite the difficulties often associated with a young striker. Although that patience may have run out, at least for now. In Portugal’s 1-1 draw against Israel, Oliveira drew the ire of many when he twice decided to make an attempt on goal when he should have passed the ball.

He was not called up to Bento’s squad for the two-leg playoff against Sweden. But with the centre-forward position being such a problem area for Portugal for some time now, Oliveira is likely to appear in upcoming friendlies. And he may use the recent setbacks as motivation.

Hugo Almeida, Beşiktaş J.K, Striker

The 29-year old striker has been a constant presence in the Portugal squad for several years now despite never really establishing himself in the starting XI. Almeida has never managed to replicate his club form with the Selecção. Currently he has only 17 goals in 52 matches for Portugal.

Almeida has become known for missing clear-cut opportunities while playing for Portugal. He did provided a perfect chip pass to Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal’s second goal in Stockholm to help Portugal qualify reminding everyone what he could do. And he does have the ability to link up well with his teammates something Helder Postiga’s game lacks.

But Postiga produces goals at a far more consistent level for Portugal despite the limitations of his game. With Nélson Oliveira and Éder emerging, Almeida needs to start producing.

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A Seleção will need to defeat Sweden in a decisive playoff in order to book their tickets to next year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Paulo Bento’s squad will face Sweden in the first-leg at the Estádio da Luz on November 15th, followed by the return leg at the Friends Arena in Solna, Stockholm four days later.

Manager Paulo Bento continued the trend from recent matches by selecting new players to the squad. Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho was selected for the first time after some terrific displays this season that have earned him attention from major European clubs.

19-year old winger Bruma has also earned a position on the squad. He was previously called up as an injury replacement in Portugal’s last qualifying match against Luxembourg.

Other notable call-ups include youngsters André Almeida and Josué. João Pereira and Fábio Coentrão have been battling injuries but were selected. Braga goalkeeper returned to the squad after an injury to Lyon’s Anthony Lopes.

Missing out this time around are Sporting’s Cédric Soares and André Martins, Nélson Oliveira, Pizzi, Licá and Ruben Amorim. Zenit’s Danny limped off the field in a Champions League match against FC Porto this week and was not selected.

Full Squad

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

Defenders: André Almeida (Benfica), Antunes (Malaga), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahçe), João Pereira (Valencia), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Neto (Zenit) Ricardo Costa (Valencia)

Midfielders: William Carvalho (Sporting), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), João Moutinho (Monaco), Josué (FC Porto), Raúl Meireles (Fenerbahçe), Ruben Micael (Braga)

Forwards: Bruma (Galatasaray), Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Hélder Postiga (Valencia), Éder (Braga), Varela (FC Porto), Nani (Manchester United)

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Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor could not have imagined a better start to life in Greece. Unceremoniously released by Benfica in the summer, the 24-year old signed with Greek club PAOK and has quickly won over fans.

Vitor has scored four goals in his first eight matches in the Greek Super League, while PAOK currently sit comfortably in second position behind Olympiakos.

Vitor followed up a two goal performance last weekend in a league game against Asteras Tripolis with another goal in the Europa League against Maccabi Haifa midweek. The goal came in the 35th minute when the Greek club was already down 2-0. Vitor headed in a long free-kick to cut the lead in half.

The goal helped PAOK come back and win the match 3-2. The win means they are currently in first place in group L, with seven points in three matches.

Vitor has scored five goals in all competitions already this season. In an interview with Portuguese football website Maisfutebol this week, the central defender reflected on his immediate success in Greece.

“Both collectively and individually, everything is going perfectly,” he told Maisfutebol.

Vitor has won great admiration from the PAOK faithful for his early season heroics.

“The Greek fans are very passionate. Things have turned out well for the club and myself so far. They have given us a lot of affection. It is a good feeling.”

A Benfica youth player, Miguel Vitor graduated to the senior club in 2008-09. He made 16 league appearances under former manager Quique Sánchez Flores in his first season.

But Jorge Jesus took over at the Estádio da Luz the following season. He favoured Luisão and David Luiz in the centre of defence. Vitor made only two appearances in 2009-10 as Benfica would go on to win the league and the Portuguese Cup.

In 2010-11, Vitor was loaned to Leicester City in the English Championship. Former Portugal international and Benfica player Paulo Sousa was the manager of the club at the time. Vitor would impress, recovering from an early season injury to play in 15 league matches, scoring three goals.

Upon returning to Benfica, Vitor was relegated to a bench role in the next two seasons. Last year, he divided time between the senior club and Benfica B in the second division. Vitor’s summer departure came as no surprise to anyone.

In the interview with Maisfutebol, Vitor said that he left Benfica with regret but is now firmly focussed on rebuilding his career in a new country.

“Of course I wish things could have worked out better but I wouldn’t say I was hurt by it. I don’t really think about it anymore,” he said.

“Over several years it became obvious that there wasn’t any room for me. With the current manager, I understood that it would be very difficult to get an opportunity,” he added.

Vitor is the latest Portuguese national to make a big name for himself at PAOK. Fernando Santos managed the club for three seasons before leaving to coach the Greek national team in 2010. Former Portugal winger and current manager of Académica Sérgio Conceição also played for PAOK for two seasons.

But most notably, Vieirinha played for PAOK for three seasons, being named the team’s player of the year twice. His impressive performances earned him a transfer to Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg and eventually a call-up to the Portuguese national team.

The comparisons between Vieirinha and Miguel Vitor are almost unavoidable. Both were highly touted youth players. Vieirinha never really got a chance with FC Porto, while Vitor was never really given an opportunity at Benfica. Both headed off to Greece. Could Miguel Vitor’s career take a similar path?

A regular on Portugal’s U19 and U21 squads, Vitor said that a call-up to the senior squad would be a dream come true.

“It is a dream that I have, but I know that I have not played much in the last three seasons. To get there, I have to play one or two seasons at a high level before I could expect to be selected,” he said.

“I hope Portugal qualify for the World Cup but I think it will be difficult for me to get there. The squad is well established. But it is a possibility, I have to continue to work hard in order to get there.”

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The Seleção will need to be at their best in order to beat Sweden and qualify for Brazil.

Paulo Bento’s club has not been in top form during this qualifying stage, finishing second in their group behind Russia. It no longer looks like the same squad that came within inches of dethroning Spain at last year’s European Championship.

Manager Bento has been widely criticized for what people say has been an overly ‘conservative’ approach, relying too much on the same players to win. Certain players have aged and seen their quality decline. At the same time, Portugal has looked disinterested and lacking in creativity, particularly in midfield.

Bento has shown in the past that he knows how to tinker with his line-up, dropping Eduardo and Ricardo Carvalho during Euro 2012 qualifying for example. He would need to do the same if Portugal is to qualify and do well in Brazil.

Futebol Factory has comprised a list of 5 current Seleção players that could have a meaningful impact in the crucial World Cup play-off against Sweden.

André Almeida, SL Benfica, Right-Back

The 23-year old filled in at right-back for the injured João Pereira in Portugal’s final two qualifying matches and performed very well. If Pereira’s hamstring injury persists, Bento could easily turn to Almeida again.

Almeida has shown already with club and country that he is a solid player defensively although the offensive side of his game leaves something to be desired. He could also play at left-back and even in defensive midfield if called upon. Almeida is a very reliable player and barring a lack of playing time at Benfica, he has a bright future with the Seleção .

Luis Neto, FC Zenit Saint Petersburg, Centre Back

The 25-year old Neto has received five caps with Portugal already, which includes four starts. With Pepe and Bruno Alves both over 30, Neto appears to be the likely candidate to help lead Portugal’s back line. He has filled in nicely when called upon so far.

Neto, who is currently playing in Russia with Zenit, drew interest from Tottenham and Inter Milan this summer. Bruno Alves has been a workhorse for Portugal in the past but it appears likely that Neto will soon replace him as first-choice.

Josué, FC Porto, Attacking Midfielder

In his time as Portugal manager, Paulo Bento has relied on a three-man midfield for creativity. In recent matches, it has struggled to break down opposing defenses even against weaker teams like Northern Ireland, Israel and Luxembourg. Enter, FC Porto playmaker Josué Pesqueira, a Deco look-a-like who even wears the same number 20 for Portugal.

Josué played in Portugal’s lacklustre 3-0 win against Luxembourg to finish World Cup qualifying. After a quiet first-half he demonstrated more of his skill as the match went on. Alongside Monaco’s Joao Moutinho, Josué could help the midfield link up better with the wingers, i.e. Ronaldo and Nani.

André Martins, Sporting Lisbon, Attacking Midfielder

Another candidate to solve Portugal’s midfield deficiencies. The 23-year old Martins has been in good form this year for a resurgent Sporting Lisbon and has been selected by Bento since the end of last season.

Portugal’s offence has long relied on the flanks to create scoring opportunities. This is the same type of system that Sporting Lisbon is currently using under manager Leonardo Jardim. Martins has the vision to be an excellent player one day and could make a serious challenge for Raul Meireles’ position in the starting XI.

Éder, Sporting Braga, Striker

The Sporting Braga forward is still working on his fitness after returning from a 6-month layoff due to a knee injury. The 25-year old has received 6 caps with Portugal, including one start but is yet to score. Since the retirement of former PSG striker Pauleta, Portugal has been in search of a world class striker.

Hélder Postiga has done well in the role but the Valencia striker’s overall game is lacking. Nelson Oliveira has potential but he still has a lot to learn. That leaves Éder as the great hope of Portuguese football. He could create goals, as well as score them. Good in the air and lightning quick, everything is falling into place for Éder right now.

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Portugal will go into its final two World Cup 2014 qualifying matches with a slight chance to top their group and earn automatic qualification.

A Seleção will need to win both matches against Israel and Luxembourg and hope group F leaders Russia drop points in their final two games. But it seems likely that Paulo Bento’s side is heading two a two-leg playoff to qualify for Brazil 2014.

Beto named a 25-man squad this time around because regular starters Fábio Coentrão and Hélder Postiga are suspended for the October 11th match against Israel in Lisbon. Portugal’s regular right-back Valencia’s João Pereira has suffered a hamstring injury and was not selected.

This time around Bento has gone with a younger squad than usual, selecting Sporting Lisbon right-back Cédric Soares and Benfica defender André Almeida for the first time. Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was also selected over Portugal’s former number one Eduardo.

FC Porto’s Josué and Sporting Lisbon’s Andre Martins were selected again in midfield. Up front, Sporting Braga striker Éder has made his long-awaited return from a serious knee injury and could start alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani against Israel.

Missing out this time around are Pizzi, Licá and Ruben Amorim. Wolfsburg winger Vieirinha suffered a major knee injury and is out for 6 months.

Full Squad

Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Sevilla), Rui Patrício (Sporting)

Defenders: Cédric Soares (Sporting), André Almeida (Benfica), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahçe), Luis Neto (Zenit), Antunes (Málaga), Pepe (Real Madrid), Fábio Coentrão

Midfielders: Raul Meireles (Fenerbahçe), João Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Rúben Micael (Braga), André Martins (Sporting), Josué (FC Porto)

Forwards: Nani (Manchester United), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hélder Postiga (Valencia), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Éder (Braga), Nélson Oliveira (Rennes), Silvestre Varela (FC Porto), Danny (Zenit)

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