Column


 

A Glimpse of the Favourites: Part 3 - Portugal



By Gabriel Cazotto


Profile: “Sudden Castilia’s trump the signal gave horribly fearful, sounding tem’erous dread, Heard it the Hill Artábrus and his wave; Guadiana rolled backwards as he fled, O’er Douro and Transtagan lands it drave Tagus sore agitated seaward sped; while mothers trembling at the terrible storm, embraced with tighter arm each tiny form.” Is reciting the passage of the proclamation for the Battle of Aljubarrota by the historical Portuguese poet Camões, in the Lusiads, that we can clearly see the current spirit of the Portuguese National Team. Contrary to the whole story of “lack of commitment” of Portuguese football against small teams - seen by Paulo Bento as a cultural problem - and their famous “mutt complex” against the big teams, what we see today is a delivery of their own heart inside the field, worthy of what they did in Euro 2004 at home. But Bento went far beyond that; he changed the way of playing, made even embodied superstars like Ronaldo deliver the last drop of sweat on the field. Made the bench players believe they are part of a living system that pulsates and needs each one of them. Portugal became what their people always wanted, a team that sails impassive, as if captained by the medieval Hero of the Sea, Nuno Álvaro Pereira. Portugal, now, has more than just heart. Portugal has soul.

Goalkeeper: After some doubts of Portuguese fans about the keeper position after Vitor Baía, even with a fantastic 2006 World Cup of Ricardo, an average keeper, but fantastic in penalty shoot-out, Portugal reaches 2014 with Rui Patricio as the number 1 choice of the squad, even with his blooper against Israel (in the 1x1 draw in Lisbon) that cost Portugal the direct qualification to Brazil, the Sporting Goalkeeper is still the main reliable defender of the Quinas squad. He was crucial in 2012 Euro campaign, especially in the overtime against Spain, and with important saves against Sweden in the play-offs, as the one before the first Ronaldo goal, which could have made things more difficult for Portugal in that game. The two reserve positions might go to Beto, from Sevilla and Eduardo, claimed as one of the best displays of the last World Cup in his majestic game against Spain. However, after a fantastic appearance in the competition, his form dropped a lot, especially in his awful tenure at Genoa and the horrible display against Norway in Euro 2012 qualifying. He got a bit of his form back in Braga, and might get the third spot from Bento.

Defenders: One of Portugal specialties in creating players, especially adopting former wingers into side defence positions, as was the case of Miguel, the starter of 2006 World Cup, or Fábio Coentrão, one of Portugal’s best left backs in the last years. The Real Madrid player is still the number 1 for the left back position, and one of the main offensive forces of the squad, especially with his contribution to Ronaldo's game, as both act in the same length of the field. The reserve of Coentrão will probably be Antunes, the Málaga kid who started his career in the National Team with Queiroz in 2009, but was still too raw to the position. Into the central defense position is Portugal’s core of heart and soul. Here you have a lock, especially the starters. No one can doubt the quality of Pepe, the stamina and strength that Bruno Alves gives to the team, and the most important: both are the players who can sweat “blood” if necessary for Portugal. There is no one in the pool of players that are more devoted to the national team than the centre-back duo. Which I categorize as very important to lead a team to the World Cup. You can see clearly in Alves and Pepe’s face during the games, that if that match were the last one of their lives, they wouldn’t mind a bit to die in the field for Portugal. The direct reserve is one of the best defenders who has emerged from Portugal in the last years, Zenit’s Luis Neto, a good young prospect who might get his chance due to his technical skills and positioning which reminds a bit of Ricardo Carvalho, the strength that Pepe and Alves give is very well counter-balanced by the skill of Neto, which can be a world class defender in the future.

Midfielders: Portugal uses two central midfielders to control the game, and distribute the ball to the wingers. From the 2 CM, one is more focused in helping defensively and one in helping the offensive force. Both starters might get their spot in 2014 easily, Raul Meireles, who has been a monster when playing for Portugal, different from what he does club wise and the main key to success for Portugal. João Moutinho. You see he is more a key than Ronaldo in my opinion. You are crazy, you will say? No! Let me remind me of two campaigns where two teams reached with normal squads and had an awesome player who guided them to the Cup. Maradona in 1986 and Romário in 1994. To emulate them, Ronaldo needs what both had in their campaigns, a good team. Portugal has. A true World Star player. Portugal has. And a Fantastic and decisive supporting player. For Maradona was Burruchaga, for Romário was Bebeto. For Ronaldo is Moutinho. If Moutinho delivers, Portugal can conquer what today seems almost impossible, the World Cup. The best assistant in all qualifying, Moutinho made 11 assists during the entire qualifying almost 50% of Portugal goals (24) came from his feet, especially the “trivela” one to Ronaldo open the score against Sweden in Solna. The great question nowadays in Portugal is if Fernando, the “Octopus”, recently naturalized Portuguese will choose Portugal over Brazil, which cab give a huge boost in defensive midfielder together with the new jewel of Portugal crown, William, already wanted by the big English teams.

Forwards: Brazil is known for making outstanding strikers. Italy is better in making líberos and defenders. Argentina, Spain and France create fantastic offensive midfielders. The Germans and the Belgians are awesome in creating goalkeepers. Every national team has their specialties. Portugal makes world-class wingers. Simões, José Augusto, Chalana, Futre, Figo, João Pinto, Cristiano Ronaldo, and the list can go on and on. Because of that, Portugal is fixed in use the 4-3-3 line up with two wingers to maximize the position that every kid in Portugal pretends to be when growing up. Cristiano Ronaldo. Just his name is enough to say about the quality of the main winger, and a top 3 all-time player of the Quinas. Ronaldo is one of the best ever, probably the current best player in the World today, which might be proved in FIFA awards in the beginning of 2014. Can he singlehandedly lead Portugal to their first Cup ever? Why not? The man scored every single goal that qualified Portugal against Sweden in the playoffs, he scored another hat trick against the tricky Northern Ireland in Belfast, and another one was scored in the first game against Luxembourg, totalling 8 from 24 goals of the team. The Captain, the idol. We can assure that if he plays what he knows, Portugal can go far. Nani, Varela and the youngster Bruma, one of the best players who have risen from Portuguese football in the last 10 years might be the other 3 wingers. But a fourth man might appear in contention, “the Mustang” Quaresma, who is returning to Porto, will be he able to emulate his talent known worldwide or will he fade again to his selfishness? Portugal doesn’t have a World Class player, neither a prolific striker. The “Ugly Duck”, who suffers from critics every single game and owner of the position is Helder Postiga. Yes, he flopped in England, he also can spend weeks without scoring for his club, but the “Ugly Duck” is undeniable in one thing, he can score for Portugal. As crazy as it might sound, Postiga has almost the same goal average for Portugal (0,41) that Wayne Rooney has for England (0,43) or Balotelli has for Italy (0,41), Is he worthy of such criticism?

Tactics: Paulo Bento is one of the few coaches in this World Cup to really use the typical 4-3-3, and not it’s variation of 4-2-3-1. The 4-3-3 with two central midfielders, on defensive midfielder and two wingers is a tradition of Portuguese football. Every World Cup that Portugal participated (besides 1966, where Otto Glória, the Brazilian coach opted for the 4-2-4, a typical Brazilian system at the time) this was the tactical line-up more used. Bento also instructed a compact way of a man on man marking pressuring all around the field, which chokes the opponent without the ball, especially with the midfield trio. This was incredible successfully against Spain in the 4-0 friendly in 2010 and repeated in Euro 2012 semi-final, where Portugal was only eliminated on penalties by Spain. Scolari even said after the Confederations Cup thrashing against Spain, that he had spoken to Bento and his assistant Leonel Pontes to understand how Portugal used the trio midfielders and wingers to suffocate Spain in their own field (as we all know, Scolari has a fantastic relationship with FPF). The ball gained in midfield, is soon passed for the skilled wingers, Nani and Ronaldo. If you believe that CR7 plays alone, think again. Yes, in time of decision, the ball is passed to him. But the control of the midfield, lead by Moutinho, the defensive help from Nani and the counter-attack armed by Coentrão make all the difference to help Ronaldo shine.





 

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