In 2010 of September, the Portuguese Federation began a new era with the appointment of Paulo Bento as manager, a Portuguese born coach, but one with very little coaching experience with his only managing position being at Sporting Clube de Portugal (Portugal’s 1st Division) before his appointment. He immediately implemented a new philosophy, style, and tactics to the team that varied from former manager, Carlos Queiroz; who was sacked after a poor start to the Euro qualifying games. Bento imposes an attacking style with quick-thinking, quick-passing game thru midfield, and exerts pressure defensively higher up when possible. This is a different approach than Queiroz’s style of drop back defensively, invite the opponents to attack, and play on the break with quick counters.
Portugal, under Bento’s leadership did qualify for the Euro 2012 event and will enter the competition ranked #5 in the world’s latest rankings by FIFA. The same team that needed to qualify with two play-off matches verse Bosnia & Herzegovina and eventually did with a 6-2 aggregate, but certainly a possible misleading ranking by FIFA that can be debated by many. Portugal is talented and showed it as they scored 27 goals in qualifying matches while only conceding 14. In addition to those matches, a few friendlies along the way with the most impressive result, a 4-0 win against Spain, who is the current Euro and World Cup champions, ranked #1 in the world.
Although Portugal starting XI will be very talented and competitive, the roster does lack depth. Both Pepe and Bruno Alves should start centrally in the back line, but are always one reckless tackle away from suspension with Rolando being the next option, whose performances have been below average to poor. However, the selection of Miguel Lopes is an excellent choice as he can provide options at outside back on either side if needed for Fabio Coentrao or Joao Pereira. Manual Fernandes of Besiktas wasn’t chosen, but had he been, he would be a good option in midfield. Hugo Viana, probably the best player during the Portuguese League for Braga wasn’t originally selected, but recently added to the roster for Carlos Martins due to his injury. Ricardo Quaresma is a wild-card selection and substitute. He has the ability, can provide a dynamic attack as a winger but very inconsistent with questionable decisions on the ball. He could be a very positive influence when coming on but at the same time, a wasted sub with little impact.
Portugal’s roster doesn’t have a true #10 in midfield like former members Rui Costa or Deco, but doesn’t require one in Bento’s style. The manager will feature centrally in midfield Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles as box-to-box midfielders joining and supporting the attack, but also providing cover defensively with Miguel Veloso playing in slightly behind them. Both wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani have limited responsibilities to recover defensively and both Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao will get forward as attacking outside backs, requiring the center midfielders to cover enormous amount of ground, especially defensively.
The strength in Portugal’s team is upfront with Ronaldo, Nani and Postiga. Both Ronaldo and Nani have the abilities to create, exploit, and score goals from wider positions with Postiga complimenting the two very talented wingers. Nani who didn’t participate in the 2010 world cup and was sorely missed, provides a similar, dynamic attack like Ronaldo from the opposite side. Ronaldo is playing some of his best futebol and if it wasn’t for Messi’s incredible form, Ronaldo would be arguably the best player in the world. However, he remains a close, but still distant 1a to Messi, who is by far the best player at the moment. The relationship between the manager and Ronaldo has been a positive one and could play a critical role in Portugal’s success. The Portuguese captain has scored 7 goals in eight games for the team during the qualifying stages, which is promising going into the competition as Ronaldo is continuously criticized for not performing well at major events. The trio tallied 17 of the 27 goals scored during the qualifying campaign and if Portugal wants to advance from the group all three need to perform at a similar level and hope the relationship between Bento and Ronaldo remains positive.
With that being said, Portugal won’t win the group for the fifth consecutive time as the German are the clear favorites. Portugal will struggle against the versatile, talented, overwhelming attack of the Germans and won’t be able to control the attacking personality players (Gomez, Ozil, Podolski, Klose, Muller, etc, etc, etc…) and therefore suffer a defeat on June 9th. A win against Denmark would become a priority and doable in the next match. Final group match against the Netherlands does present its challenges and the lack of depth could be an issue for this game, but Portugal historically has done well against them. Therefore, in a must win match, Portugal dictates the tempo, controls their attacking personality players (Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, etc…) and wins the match to finish 2nd in the group behind Germany. The group consists of teams that can advance and win the competition, but the Germans will win the group.
So come June 9th, after all the loud debating, arguing, and questioning is done and the national anthem has brought emotions to an ultimate high; Portuguese fanatics will either be at the game or in front of a TV with the radio station blasting with the belief that Portugal can beat Germany, can advance out of the group and can win the Euro Championship! So here’s to being optimistic, not realistic – “Forca Portugal”!
Portugal Squad for Euro 2012
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting), Eduardo (Benfica), Beto (Cluj)
Defenders: Joao Pereira (Sporting), Bruno Alves (Zenit St Petersburg), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Rolando (Porto), Miguel Lopes (Braga)
Midfielders: Hugo Viana (Braga), Joao Moutinho (Porto), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Raul Meireles (Chelsea), Ruben Micael (Zaragoza), Custodio (Braga)
Strikers: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Helder Postiga (Zaragoza), Nani (Manchester United), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Silvestre Varela (Porto)
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