Portugal will resume their qualification campaign for the 2022 FIFA World Cup when they take on Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.
After three weeks of club footballing action and a bizarre transfer window, the international break offers teams and players some respite as they look to properly settle in for the season ahead. At the same time, it offers the fans time to enjoy the same brand of international football that had lit up the world earlier this summer, with UEFA Euro 2020 and Copa America.
One of the most entertaining teams on the international stage, in the form of Portugal, begin their action on Wednesday, hosting Republic of Ireland at Estadio Algarve. The clash in Almancil will serve as the nation’s fourth game in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, with A Selecao leading the Group A table with seven points in three matches.
Fernando Santos’ men are under severe pressure, though, having struggled in Euro 2020, bowing out of the tournament at the hands of Belgium. Not to mention, they are only leading the qualifying table due to a better goal difference, as second-placed Serbia have also collected seven points from three matches.
On the other hand, Ireland have performed even poorly, opening their campaign with two back to back defeats. While the defeat to Serbia was fathomable, the Boys in Green lost their second game in shambolic fashion to Luxembourg, currently ranked 96 in the world by FIFA.
Ireland had not performed well in their most recent friendlies either, struggling to beat Hungary while being held to a draw with Qatar. Their 4-1 triumph over Andorra is their only victory on the international stage since November 2019. The visitors, therefore, certainly have a tough mountain to climb, as they look to get the better of Portugal.
And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at these two sides ahead of their important encounter in Almancil this midweek.
Team News & Tactics
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) August 26, 2021
Cristiano Ronaldo has attracted all the headlines since completing his return to Manchester United. The attacker’s move to Premier League has been confirmed today, but the player is set to remain in Portugal during the international break. He is currently a part of the host contingent for this upcoming affair and remains a guaranteed starter against Ireland.
With Ronaldo spearheading the attack, Diogo Jota will likely be used as a runner once again by Santos. As for the right wing slot, Santos has the option to deploy Rafa Silva or Pedro Goncalves, but it is Bernardo Silva who might get the nod, with Santos likely to throw in a weaker side in the upcoming game against Qatar.
It remains to be seen whether the same formula is applied in midfield. Bruno Fernandes was in top form in the Premier League but is recently coming on the back of a strenuous affair against Wolves. We do expect him to start nevertheless, featuring at the sharp end of Portugal’s midfield diamond, consisting of him, Joao Moutinho and Danilo Pereira.
Santos does have other exciting options at his disposal including Ruben Neves and Joao Palhinha. But the two are more likely to feature in the friendly against Qatar. The same can be said for the uncapped defender Goncalo Inacio, which means Portugal may continue with the tried and tested central defensive combination Ruben Dias and Pepe.
Santos faces a bigger selection dilemma in the wide defensive roles. Raphael Guerreiro and Nuno Mendes are both competing for a position at left-back, and while the former is a guaranteed starter on paper, he is coming on the back of an injury layoff. Hence, there might be some pressure from Dortmund to give him more time to recover.
On that end, Nuno Mendes might be employed at left-back, as he looks to cause problems for the opposition with his darting runs out wide. Joao Cancelo is the right-back, who is set to operate in a more versatile role, potentially in an inverted role to counteract the Ireland press.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Patricio; Cancelo, Pepe, Dias, Mendes; Pereira, Moutinho, Fernandes; Bernardo Silva, Ronaldo, Jota
Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland head coach Stephen Kenny is likely to opt for a 3-5-2 formation with a deep defensive approach that will focus on frustrating the opposition. The visitors are also unlikely to give the likes of Dioga Jota or the full-backs any space to make overlapping runs out wide.
However, a major issue they face is the lack of defensive quality of right-back Matt Doherty, so it will be essential that the right sided centre-back John Egan covers him well. The same can be said for two other centre-backs in Shane Duffy and Dara O’Shea as they look to remain resilient at the heart of the Irish backline.
25-man squad named for FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers 👌@BurnleyOfficial defender Nathan Collins receives his first senior call-up as Aaron Connolly and Jeff Hendrick return to the squad 🙌
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) August 26, 2021
While Doherty and James McClean are set to operate as wing-backs, they are expected to do the defensive work as well as playing a vital role on the counter. Their crosses out wide could be a real source of chance creation for the Irish team, being led by the offensive duo of Adam Idah and Troy Parrott.
James Collins is another option, should Kenny look for a more traditional target man than Parrott. Nevertheless, the onus of protecting Ireland’s defence while simultaneously providing the transition to attack will be on the central midfielders.
Jeff Hendrick, John Cullen and Conor Hourihane are currently the favourites to start at the base of the 3-5-2. Their experience and work ethic will go a long way in frustrating the Portugal side, but they also need to take advantage of their numerical superiority in the middle of the park.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Kelleher; Egan, Duffy, O’Shea; Doherty, Hendrick, Hourihane, Cullen, McClean; Parrott, Idah
- The last meeting between the two nations came back in a January 2014 friendly, with Portugal clinching a comfortable 5-1 victory.
- Portugal also dominate the tie overall, securing six wins in 11 matchups, losing just three.
- Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo is looking for his historic 110th goal for the nation this midweek.
- Ireland have secured only one victory on the international stage since November 2019.
- Over the span of last 25 years, Portugal have beaten Ireland only once across four meetings.
Player to Watch
Cristiano Ronaldo attracts the spotlight wherever he goes, but this time around, an entire contingent of new fans will be waiting to see him play, after having joined Manchester United this summer. It will indeed be his first game after confirming the deal, and so the eager Manchester United fans will be keen on getting a glimpse of what he has to offer when he returns to Manchester after the international break.
Perhaps more importantly, this game will be crucial for Ronaldo himself as he will have the opportunity to beat Ali Daei’s sensational record of scoring 109 goals on the international stage. The 36-year-old is currently tied with the Iranian legend, but another goal this midweek will see him become the all-time top-scorer in international football.
Portugal 2-0 Republic Ireland
Ireland’s team do not necessarily lack quality and they are more than capable of pulling off an upset. However, they certainly lack the identity and coming up against Portugal in their own backyard, it could be a difficult task for Kenny’s men to secure anything from this game, especially given their form heading into the encounter.
Hence, there is a significant chance that Portugal may solidify their position with a comfortable victory in Alguacil this midweek, with Manchester United dream duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes likely to dominate proceedings. We predict a 2-0 win for Portugal against Ireland here.