Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
Portugal have wrapped up their friendly campaign ahead of the World Cup. They face their tournament opener on Friday, but are they ready for a big clash with Spain? The European champions have tried out a few different approaches in their three warm up matches so far, as they aim to repeat their success in France.
Fernando Santos has improved his squad over the past two years, yet they’re still expected to be a very defensive outfit in Russia this summer. However, they’ve finished third in their group at their last two major tournaments, so the Selecao need to shape up. Have they done enough across these friendlies, or do Portugal look undercooked? Here we’re running through their results in the last couple of weeks, and where that leaves them.
Also See: Portugal’s Timeline in Russia
Portugal 2-2 Tunisia – 28th May 2018
Portugal Line up (4-3-3): Lopes; Pereira, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Guerreiro; Joao Mario, Carvalho, Adrien Silva; Bernardo Silva, Quaresma, Andre Silva
Portugal’s opening game of the summer was a setback, but it did come with a much changed side. Santos had such few options that he needed to switch to a 4-3-3 formation. However, they were far from their best, and attacking football wasn’t what they got by committing an extra man to the attack.
The European champions threw away a two goal lead in this clash with Tunisia. That doesn’t bode well for the side who rely so much on defending. However, just two of their usual back four featured. On top of that, they had a reserve goalkeeper on the pitch, so we can’t take too much from their clash with the African side.
This does feel like a warm up for their meeting with Morocco, who are their biggest threat. Their defence will need to be much better for the tournament, but goals for Andre Silva and Joao Mario were a boost. Cristiano Ronaldo sat out this game, but his team still scored goals regardless.
Belgium 0-0 Portugal – 2nd June 2018
Line up (4-4-2): Beto; Soares, Fonte, Pepe, Guerreiro; Bernardo Silva, Moutinho, Carvalho, Mario; Gelson Martins, Guedes
Portugal’s biggest game of their warm up fixtures came in Brussels. They did set up with their usual approach this time around. However, there were still noticeable gaps in the Portuguese side in this meeting with the Red Devils. Ronaldo still didn’t feature, as he continued his holiday following the Champions League final. In his place, Portugal started with Gelson Martins and Goncalo Guedes in attack.
However, their focus here was defence. After a poor showing against Tunisia, the Selecao had to up their game in an attempt to tighten up at the back. Taking on a talented Belgium side can be seen as preparation for their Group B opener against Spain. If that was their plan, then they will have to be confident after their display against the Belgians, which saw them shut down a talented forward line.
This was much more the Portugal of old, but they did have more of a foot in the game than you’d expect. While they couldn’t match the Belgians for squad depth, they did beat them in terms of possession and shots. That does hint at a step forward in style from the European champions, who do have options to push on a little more in attack than they did at the Euros.
Portugal 3-0 Algeria – 7th June 2018
Line up (4-4-2): Patricio; Soares, Pepe, Alves, Guerrerio; Bernardo Silva, Carvalho, Moutinho, Bruno Fernandes; Ronaldo, Guedes
The Selecao were waved off in Lisbon, and they did so after an impressive 3-0 victory over Algeria. They were basically returned to full strength for this clash, which saw them continue in their 4-4-2 system. Bruno Alves’ selection hits that he’ll start at the heart of the back four. There were two surprising selections by Santos, who kept Guedes in the forward line ahead of Andre Silva.
The PSG forward struck twice in this victory, which looks to establish him as a contender for the number nine slot. While Andre Silva impressed in qualifying, his move to AC Milan has left him vulnerable. Guedes getting a brace in this clash only makes the former Porto striker even more vulnerable.
The other scorer was Bruno Fernandes, who returned to Portugal from Italy last summer. He’s had an excellent season at Sporting, chipping in with 16 goals from midfield. He started on the left of the midfield four, and the former Sampdoria player hit the second goal. We mentioned Fernandes as a potential star in our squad preview, as he’s capable of lifting the scoring burden off the forwards. Based on this showing, he could force his way in to the 11 at the World Cup.
How Prepared Are They for Their Opener?
It’s been a mixed warm up campaign for the Portuguese, with one disappointing draw, an impressive one and a comfortable victory. However, they’re arguably heading for a better standard of opponent than the three they faced in preparation. The European champions didn’t really pull up any trees in the build up for Euro 2016, as they thrashed Estonia, lost to England and beat Norway.
They could simply be focusing their work on the training ground. The fact that we have yet to see Portugal’s likely 11 for the clash with Spain suggest there’s work behind the scenes. They could simply be rotating through players on the eve of the tournament, with a game plan in mind for their clash with the Spanish in Sochi.
The clash with Algeria and the more adventurous nature of their meeting with Belgium are positives. However, those are good signs for later in the group. They’ll need to attack Morocco and Iran in order to avoid a third straight third place finish in a group at a major tournament. They certainly seem to be taking more risks, but their side for the Spain clash is likely to need more work.
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