In the year 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral, supported by a contingent of over 1000 men, was the first European to land in Brazil. Five hundred and fourteen years later, another Portuguese contingent, albeit much smaller, will head to Brazil led by Paulo Bento in search of glory, and sporting immortality.
With FIFA’s first deadline to submit a provisional 30 player list looming close, we take a look at Paulo Bento’s possible 23 and some of the players who have made strong arguments to be valid choices for Bento. We break down each sector, and try to narrow down the possible twenty three Paulo Bento will announce on May 19th.
Rui Patricio( Sporting), and Beto (Sevilla) will undoubtedly be number one and number two. Patricio has had a good season at Sporting, and started all twelve games in Portugal’s qualifying campaign. Beto figured in goal for Sevilla in 42 games this season, and will be in between the sticks for Sevilla when they play their upcoming Europa League final against Portugal’s Benfica.
The third and final spot may not be such an obvious choice, Eduardo (Braga) is the front runner for the final spot, but the Braga man has strong competition from both Anthony Lopes (Lyon) and Ricardo (Academica). The twenty-three year old Lopes is having a breakout year for Lyon, and has been previously called by Paulo Bento but is yet to get his first cap. The long shot in the group is Academica’s Ricardo. The 31 year old logged the most minutes of any player in the Portuguese league, and helped Academica to a respectable 9th place this season, but has yet to be called by Paulo Bento, despite reports out of Portugal that claim he is being looked at closely by Bento and his technical staff.
Pepe (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Ricardo Costa (Valencia) and Luis Neto (Zenit) will surely be the names chosen for the center of the defense, while Joao Pereira (Valencia) and Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid) should be the starting full backs. Rolando (Inter) can also make the case for the center of the defense and will most likely be included in the thirty men provisional roster. The biggest doubt remains on who the seventh man will be. Benfica’s Silvio seemed like an unanimous decision as he could play on both sides of the defense, but a recently broken leg has not only erased his hopes of being in Brazil, but has also left Bento looking for possible alternatives.
Andre Almeida (Benfica), and Antunes (Malaga) are two players being looked at as possible alternatives to Silvio. Almeida had a quiet first half of the season for Benfica, but has been putting in minutes in the final stretch of the season, as a result of several injuries in the Benfica squad. Almeida can also play both sides of the defense; although, his level of proficiency on the left is much lower than on the right. Antunes has been a staple on the left side of Malaga’s defense, and may very well edge out Almeida for the final spot, as Valencia’s Ricardo Costa can be used as a back up on the right side of the defense, all but eliminating the need for another right back.
Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), and Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev) have been the the most used trio in Paulo Bento’s customary 4-3-3, and will surely be at the top of the list when Bento starts writing down his choices for midfielders. One name that Paulo Bento perhaps wishes he could have been writing down on his list is Fernando (Porto), but FIFA turned down the Portuguese Federation’s request to use the recently naturalized Brazilian, invoking the Brazilian’s previous feature in Brazil’s youth squad as the reason.
Fernando’s unavailability has opened the door to a couple others, namely Ruben Amorim (Benfica) and William Carvalho (Sporting). Amorim has had a good season for Benfica, and has been a crucial piece of Jorge Jesus’ squad rotation. While William Carvalho burst onto the scene this year as a virtual unknown, and is currently considered by many one of the best players in the Portuguese league. The twenty-two year old has been linked to some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and will give Miguel Veloso a serious run for the starting spot as the holding midfielder.
A few other names that usually figure in Paulo Bento’s call ups are Josue (Porto) and Ruben Micael (Braga) – both box to box players, and regulars in Bento’s choices, but some argue that Adrien Silva(Sporting) is head and shoulders of these two. Adrien Silva has had a stellar season for Sporting, but there is no sign from Bento that he will be calling on his services. Silva missed the cut when Portugal played a friendly against Cameroon back in March in a game where Bento called a lot of fringe players to observe potential additions to the roster.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Silvestre Varela(Porto), Nani (Manchester United), Postiga (Lazio) and Hugo Almeida (Besitkas) will undoubtedly be in Brazil. The biggest question who will play a supporting role?
Ricardo Quaresma (Porto) has been an instrumental piece for his club, this season, and has literally prevented Porto from having more of an embarrassing season than it has; yet, his personality, and playing style don’t always benefit team chemistry and unity. Quaresma’s call up will heavily depend on whether or not Bento feels he can integrate Quaresma with minimum disruption, and can turn him into a team player and not a one man side show.
Other candidates for the wings are Pereirinha(Lazio), Carlos Mane (Sporting), Ivan Cavaleiro (Benfica), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), and Dany (Zenit). Dany and Vieirinha are the more experienced of the group and make strong cases for the call up. Dany, who was rumored to be on Bento’s blacklist – a rumor the National team coach dispelled in a recent TV interview – would be a good addition to Portugal’s winger needs. Vierinha, who had issues with injuries this season in the Bundesliga, is another viable option for Bento.
Nani’s physical condition is still an enigma, as he spent most of the season in the hands of Manchester United’s medical staff, as a result Paulo Bento maybe taking a good look at Carlos Mane and Ivan Cavaleiro, two emerging stars, as well as Lazio man Pereirinha.
The biggest question in the forward sector is whether Bento will choose to take three forwards – similarly to two years ago in the European Championships – or if he will forgo the third forward spot to add more depth to the midfield. If he chooses to go with three forwards, Eder (Braga) and Nelson Oliveira (Rennes) are two players he will most likely be considering. Neither one has had a particularly exceptional season, but with the historical lack of quality in the forward position for Portugal, those two players are the best of the scarce rest.
The Portuguese Federation will submit its provisional list of 30 players to FIFA on May 13th – a list that will be made public by FIFA 3 days later – and will then submit the final 23 team roster on May 19th.
Portugal will open their World Cup campaign against Germany in Salvador, coincidentally the first established town by Portuguese colonization, and for many years the capital of Brazil. Paulo Bento hopes that his chosen twenty three will be able to make the same type of impression and impact in Brazil.