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This article first appeared on Soccerly.com
Portugal’s first preparation game en route to Brazil served mostly to test out a new system, as well as some of the players who are vying for the last few spots in Paulo Bento’s starting eleven.
One of those players could very well be auditioning for Cristiano Ronaldo’s spot. The captain and reigning Ballon d’Or winner has not fully recovered from the injuries that hampered the end of his season with Real Madrid, and there is some concern that his delayed recovery could rule him out of some of Portugal’s group games.
Ronaldo’s absence is always disconcerting, but Portugal’s humdrum performance against Greece did little to quiet those who claim that the Seleção das Quinas is a nothing more than a one-man team.
Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Bento forwent his favored 4-3-3 and lined-up Portugal in a 4-4-2. Since taking over in 2010, Bento has deemed the 4-3-3 as the formation to get the most out of Ronaldo. Nevertheless, even without Ronaldo (and Fabio Contrão, who has also benefitted from the formation), the switch was surprising.
The formation change was likely Bento’s attempt to test a system that could best suit the team when facing Germany, especially if Ronaldo is sidelined. Historically Portugal has had trouble asserting itself offensively against the more physical Germans; thus, Eder’s inclusion in the lineup was clearly an attempt to introduce more size and strength up front.
The move almost paid off in the first minute. Nani found space on the right-hand side and zipped a cross into the box, which the Braga man headed straight into Kamezis’ hands. However, while crosses were frequent throughout the game, their lack of accuracy dictated that Eder’s opportunity early on would be his best, even though he was a nuisance to Greece’s defense while he was on the field. Postiga’s positioning was also problematic, as he was often late crashing into the box, leaving Eder isolated against Sokratis and Manolas.
The Lazio forward was forced to move deeper in search of the ball as a result of Bento’s decision to start Miguel Veloso and William Carvalho in the center of midfield. The choice to pair the two was surprising given their positional similarities – both are defensively minded and like to collect the ball deep in midfield. Veloso was given more freedom to support the attack, but his instinct to sit back sometimes caused the players to get in each other’s way.
Still, the experiment was mostly positive, especially for Carvalho. The young Sporting academy product was physically imposing, constantly recovering the ball, and effectively thwarting Greece’s offensive maneuvers, which only began to develop towards the end of the game when heavy legs prevented the Portuguese from pressing. William’s performance could see him break into Portugal’s starting lineup, but not necessarily to Veloso’s detriment. The Dynamo Kyiv player showed that he could adapt to a more offensive role in Bento’s midfield.
Bento did switch to the more familiar 4-3-3 with the introduction of Ruben Amorim in the 64th minute, but the move didn’t do anything to improve Portugal’s approach. In fact, the midfield only became more crowded leaving Hugo Almeida, who was introduced at the start of the second half, to chase after broken plays.
Player Ratings (1-10):
Eduardo (5): Played as well as anyone can play without ever really seeing the ball. The Greeks, who only managed their first shot on goal in the 37th minute, never threatened the Braga man’s goal.
João Pereira (6): Constantly active on the right – Portugal’s more active side – the Valencia man didn’t give Holebas a moment to rest. Pereira combined well with Nani, and tried to find Eder in the box on numerous occasions. Defensively, he never allowed Samaras the freedom to influence the game.
André Almeida (5): Played in at the less familiar left-back position, and never ventured too much into attack. Almeida was defensively sound, effectively closing down Salpingidis until the forward was subbed off. The Benfica player also showed why Bento selected him over Antunes, by slotting seamlessly into the midfield when William subbed out.
Bruno Alves (7): If there was any question about his place in the starting eleven, Alves put an end to it. Dominant in every aspect of the game, the captain commanded the defense, cleaning up all loose balls, and threatened on set pieces. His speed may be suspect, but Alves’ aerial ability makes him an invaluable member of Bento’s set-up.
William Carvalho (6): Sporting’s newest star was a defensive pillar in Portugal’s midfield. William provides the type of physical presence that the team has been missing, and could prove essential against Germany. His comfort with the ball at his feet and his ability to spread the ball with is passes also ensures that Portugal’s possession will not suffer if he finds his way to the starting eleven.
Miguel Veloso (6): Took some time to adapt to his more offensive tasks, as well as his partnership with William, but as Veloso became more comfortable, Portugal’s movement improved significantly. Veloso’s more offensive role allowed him to shoot on goal more often than he is used to. Unfortunately, most of his shots came from his weaker foot. His set play delivery also left much to be desired.
Luis Nani (6): Portugal’s best player along with Alves. The Manchester United winger is clearly short on match fitness, but his individual skill and creativity caused Greece most of its headaches. Nani spent much of his time on the right side of the midfield, but his runs through the middle opened up space for his teammates. His cross to find Eder in the first minute was Portugal’s best opportunity to score.
Silvestre Varela (5): The FC Porto man had a quiet first half, but free of mistakes. The fact that Almeida rarely overlapped the winger meant that he could never find the space that he needed to influence the game. In the second half, Varela found a little more space as Greece attacked more, and at one point found Nani in the box with a sublime cross that the latter wasted.
Helder Postiga (4): Postiga was never able to assert himself in the game. A great moment of skill in the seventeenth minute showed what he can do when inspired, but his penchant for disappearing from the game could cost him a starting spot.
Eder (5): The Braga man had the game’s best scoring opportunity, but he didn’t connect with Nani’s cross as well as he would have hoped. Like William, Eder offers Portugal a more physical presence, and while he may not have Postiga’s skill, his footwork is more than adequate to fit into Bento’s game plan.
Beto (4): The Sevilla man almost cost Portugal a goal when he failed to meet a cross in the seventy-eighth minute, but he made up for his mistake in the eighty-fourth when he blocked Fetfatzidis’ point blank shot.
Hugo Almeida (3): Isolated for most of the game, Almeida didn’t get any service, and spent much of the second half chasing wayward balls and inaccurate crosses. The Besiktas man will have to show more during Portugal’s next games in order to make himself a real attacking option.
Ruben Amorim (2): The Benfica utility man was introduced to the game when Portugal was beginning to decline. Amorim looked secure in possession and comfortable in his defensive duties, but the midfield looked crowded when he, Veloso, and William were looking for the ball.
Vieirinha (2): There was little time for Vieirinha to make much of an impression, although he did show some directness in his approach to the game, at one point almost finding Almeida with a cross.
Rafa (1): Like Vieirinha, Portugal’s youngest player hardly had time to impress, but he did get a taste of Greek tackling, having been steamrolled by Fetfatzidis.
Neto (1): Replaced William in the eighty-eight minute and got to touch the ball once.