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EURO 2020 qualifying: Portugal edges Serbia, France batters Albania

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With four goals each, France and Portugal were in no need of favors as they comfortable cruised by their opponents in Saturday’s EURO 2020 qualifying action.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]


Serbia 2-4 Portugal

The Serbians were no match for the Portuguese.

Portugal, trailing an unbeaten Ukraine in Group B by eight points, were more than ready to cut the deficit on Saturday night in Belgrade. And despite taking 42 minutes to get the engine going, the goals, eventually, poured in.

William Carvalho broke deadlock minutes before halftime, tapping in the ball into the back of net following a lack of chemistry between Serbia’s goalkeeper and defense inside the six-yard box.

Gonçalo Guedes added one of his own to put the visitors up two goals early into the second half. More than twenty minutes later, with Serbia back into the game through a Nikola Milenković goal, Cristiano Ronaldo, as always, made sure to make his presence known.

Goals galore followed shortly, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Bernando Silva scoring within two minutes.

Portugal, with a lot of ground to make up, now sets its sights on Lithuania, while Serbia travels to Luxembourg.

France 4-1 Albania

Is this the year that Kingsley Coman separates himself from everyone else in the elite category? So far, it’s looking like it and France – like Bayern Munich – are gladly benefiting from it.

With a brace from the winger, France cruised past Albania in Paris.

The 23-year-old scored first in the eight minute, following a sublime back from Raphaël Varane. In the 68th minute, with France up by two, Coman recorded his second of the night.

 

Albania spoiled Hugo Lloris‘ clean sheet following a converted penalty from Sokol Cikalleshiu.

Despite an unbeaten record through five matches, the pressure on France remains intact with Turkey and Iceland, who only trail by goal differentials, as they take on Andorra next. Albania, on the side, host Iceland.

Elsewhere

Kosovo 2-1 Czech Republic
Lithuania 0-3 Ukraine
England 4-0 Bulgaria
Iceland 3-0 Moldova
Scotland 1-2 Russia
Slovenia 2-0 Poland
Turkey 1-0 Andorra

Benfica’s mascot eagle returns after flying away before game

Benfica/Twitter
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Benfica fans can breathe a sigh of relief. The team’s mascot eagle is back.

A day after one of the team’s eagles unexpectedly flew away during a pre-match ceremony, the club said the bird had returned unharmed on Sunday.

“Guess who’s back…,” the club said in a social media post accompanied by a photo of the eagles. “You can stop worrying, they are all here.”

The eagles are released before home matches and fly around the Stadium of Light. They are supposed to return to a trainer standing near midfield, but the bird used before the team’s 2-0 win over Vitoria Guimaraes on Saturday flew out of the stadium and kept going.

The eagles carry ribbons with the team’s red and white colors.

Portugal excludes Cristiano Ronaldo from roster of Euro 2016 qualifier

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Cristiano Ronaldo can be the best player in the world, extremely important to both La Liga giant Real Madrid and his country side, Portugal.

Nonetheless, in the past few months, he’s not been at full fitness consistently.

And his absence in manager Paulo Bento’s final 24-man roster for the 2016 European Championship qualifier against Albania on Sep. 7 may fuel speculation that he’s still not fully recovered from his leg injury.

Bento briefly spoke about the Ronaldo situation in Lisbon: “Regardless of whether he has been playing more or less regularly, at the moment he can’t play.”

Here’s Portugal’s squad without Ronaldo, via the Associated Press.

Goalkeepers: Eduardo (Dynamo Zagreb), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon), Anthony Lopes (Lyon).

Defenders: Joao Pereira (Valencia), Ruben Vezo (Valencia), Andre Almeida (Benfica), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Antunes (Malaga), Ricardo Costa (Al-Sailiya), Neto (Zenit St. Petersburg).

Midfielders: William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon), Adrien Silva (Sporting Lisbon), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Pedro Tiba (Braga).

Forwards: Nani (Sporting Lisbon), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Bruma (Galatasaray), Eder (Braga), Ivan Cavaleiro (Depeortivo la Coruna), Ricardo Horta (Malaga).

Cristiano Ronaldo “to meet Manchester United” about return

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Carlo Ancelotti has only been in charge at Real Madrid for one day… but big things are already starting to happen.

Today reports in the Spanish media state that Cristiano Ronaldo is set to meet Manchester United, as the Portuguese superstar seeks a return to Old Trafford.

Talk of Ronaldo returning to the Red Devils had diminished in recent weeks, however the 28-year-old attacker will now be the subject of intense transfer speculation as his future at Real seems more uncertain.

And with new United manager David Moyes remaining tight-lipped since taking over the hot-seat from Sir Alex Ferguson, you can’t help but wonder what’s going on behind the scenes in Manchester.

However, the English champions will have to fork out around $100 million to pay for Portugal’s captain and spend over $20 million a year on his wages, with bonuses.

That is an astronomical amount of cash for a player that is out of contract in 18-months time. Many believe that Ronaldo should wait until his contract at Madrid runs out before making his next move. However with Ancelotti arriving and a new dawn approaching at the Bernabeu, maybe now would be a good time for Cristiano to assess his options.

Manchester United are about the only side Ronaldo would leave Real Madrid for, with his affection for the club clear for all to see. With Sir Alex steeping down but still involved behind the scenes at United, that could persuade Ronaldo into making the switch back to the Premier League.

As I write this, images of Ronaldo linking up with former Real boss José Mourinho at Chelsea flash through my mind and I just can’t see that happening. Also it would be unthinkable for Ronaldo to join Manchester City, such is his affection for the Manchester United ethos and the way they nurtured his talent throughout his formative years.

This “meeting” is obviously illegal under Fifa rules but it is going to happen anyway. Either way, if Ronaldo does express an interest in returning to play for Manchester United then the Premier League champions should pull out all the stops to get him back.

201 goals in 199 games since joining Real Madrid…. Yeah, your job in Spain is done Cristiano. Surely it is time to return “home” to Old Trafford…

Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Three lessons to take home from the semifinals

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1. You have to win it in the ring

At some point, you have to actually win something, and although Germany’s young talent won the European U-21s three years ago, it’s been a long time since the senior team actually won anything. As even the casual soccer fan knows after a being bombarded by the fact on Thursday, 1996 was the last time the Germans won a major men’s title. While there’s nothing wrong with that – you absolutely have a successful program without winning anything – Germany’s set higher standards. They planned to win Euro 2012, a plan most of us bought into.

But as everybody knows, a funny thing happened on the way to Germany’s coronation, but rather than leaving us questioning how it happened (Italy’s win was pretty self-explanatory), we’re left examining why we so while-heartedly bought into the narrative that had yet to play out. How did we all become sold on Germany, and (more importantly) what mistakes led us to that state?

We probably over-valued Germany’s defense, took Bastian Schweinsteiger’s health for granted, and perhaps didn’t have enough skepticism of Mario Gómez slotting into Miroslav Klöse’s role. More than anything, we believed the young talent would work before seeing them knock off a world class international team.

It’s an understandable mistake, given what we’ve seen from these players at club level. But it’s still a lesson to take to heart. Germany had beaten England, Argentina, Uruguay, and the Netherlands in major international competition, but they had also lost to Spain the last time the teams met with something on the line (semifinals, World Cup 2010). That should have at least given us caution. Yes, they’ve had some impressive wins, but they need to do a little more before we anoint them.

2. Winning isn’t everything

Five matches, two wins, and a spot in the finals? It doesn’t sound fair until you attach Italy’s name to it. They’ve certainly earned their place in Sunday’s decider, even if an ideal world would have the finalists winning most of their games.

It’s a reminder that, for all the plaudits they’ve earned this tournament, Italy are far from great. They’re experienced, well organized, resourceful and (as evidenced against Germany) capable of a great performances, but it’s still unclear how good they actually are. Though they seem to have a knack of bringing out the worst in their opponents, Italy still seems like a team that can be beaten if a good team (like Spain) can play to their potential)

How good Italy appear to us has little bearing to Sunday’s final, nor should it detract from the story they’ve written to get there. If anything, it makes the story more compelling.

3. Can’t get there without a little luck

Penalty kicks aren’t a lottery. Some players are better than others at taking them. Some goalkeepers are better than others at stopping them. Just because penalty kicks level the playing field, giving the less-talented team a better chance of winning the match, doesn’t mean they’re a lottery. Unless I have no clue what the word lottery means. (Side note: That this paragraph needed to be written makes me very sad.)

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some strange things that happen in shootouts. Take Wednesday’s tiebreaker, when Bruno Alves apparently forgot he was fourth in Portugal’s order. Did having to be pulled back (after he’d approached to take the third kick) throw him off? Though unlikely, it may have provided the small percentage point push that moved the shootout in Spain’s direction. Even if it didn’t, Spain still dodged a bullet in getting through kicks.

Streaks like Spain’s (now 10-straight knockout round wins at major tournaments) are almost always a combination of skill and fortune. Italy losing on kicks in 2008, John Heitenga seeing red in South Africa, Cristiano Ronaldo skying an open shot on Iker Casillas at the end of regulation on Wednesday – they’re all points were capabilities and circumstances converge. The influence of neither should be overlooked.

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.