Estadio do Dragao will stage a key World Cup qualifier playoff semi-final between Portugal and Turkey, with a place in the final at stake.
It may seem like a long time ago, but Aleksandar Mitrovic’s late goal is still fresh in the minds of Portugal fans. The Fulham man’s late strike ensured Serbia went through to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and Portugal had to settle for second place in the group, meaning they have to battle it out via the playoffs.
What hurt Portugal more than the loss to Serbia was their goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland, which put them in a tricky situation. Football fans worldwide know very well that either one of Portugal and Italy will be sitting at home watching the World Cup in Qatar, provided we get the dream playoff final between the two sides.
However, before they can think of playing whoever in the final, Portugal have to manoeuvre the tricky semifinal against Turkey. Fernando Santos’s men come into the playoff on the back of a decent group stage record, with 17 points and +11 goal difference to boot.
Turkey, meanwhile, are here after finishing runners-up in the group, where Netherlands finished first. Stefan Kuntz’s side did their best to make the best late in the group stages, after taking maximum points from their last three games, only to fall short of their required target.
Turkey have not featured in the World Cup for nearly two decades, after a performance worthy of a bronze medal in 2002. That was also their second participation in the premier tournament, with the previous one coming way back in 1951.
Kuntz’s side crashed out of UEFA Euro 2020 without a single point from their three group games. However, since their dismal run in the continental tournament, Turkey have suffered a defeat just once in seven games. They will certainly target a win over Portugal to progress further, but Santos’s men represent a different challenge they haven’t come across in recent games.
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— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) March 22, 2022
Fernando Santos would have wanted his best players to represent the country in time of need. The crucial semi-final playoff comes at the wrong time for the manager, when it comes to injuries and suspension. Ruben Dias is out of the squad as he recovers from a fitness issue, while Manchester City teammate Joao Cancelo will miss through suspension, despite being named in the playoff squad.
Portugal have further problems at the back after veteran Pepe tested positive for COVID-19. Those absentees could force Santos to make enforced changes in defence and hand a debut to one of Tiago Djalo or Goncalo Inacio to partner Jose Fonte at the heart of the defence.
With a weakened defence, Santos could emphasise protecting the goal and rely largely on the reputation and talent of his attackers to get the goals without imposing a particular system. A 4-4-2 could be in place, with two strikers upfront.
Based on recent performances, Cedric Soares could start at right-back ahead of Diogo Dalot. The latter’s club teammate Bruno Fernandes could also be benched following his patchy form for Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo’s place is not under threat, as the superstar is expected to start up front alongside Joao Felix.
Santos might utilise Diogo Jota on the left wing, while Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva occupies the other flank. Joao Moutinho should start in central midfield. But the injury-related withdrawal of Wolves teammate Ruben Neves will mean Vitinha will likely get a start alongside the veteran.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Patricio; Cedric, Fonte, Djalo, Guerreiro; Silva, Vitinha, Moutinho, Jota; Ronaldo, Felix
Although there are headaches with picking the right players and system, Stefan Kuntz can select from a full squad ahead of the Portugal game. The manager is expected to go with a 4-2-3-1 shape to utilise the talents of his personnel, namely Hakan Calhanoglu, who likes to operate in the attacking midfield role.
A Millî Takımımız, 2022 FIFA Dünya Kupası Avrupa Elemeleri play-off yarı finalinde yarın Portekiz ile deplasmanda oynayacağı maçın hazırlıklarını, São Miguel Stadyumu’nda basına kapalı olarak yaptığı günün ilk antrenmanıyla sürdürdü. 🇹🇷 #BizimÇocuklar #PORTUR #WCQ #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/yHLzrJu0D8
— Türkiye #BizimÇocuklar 🇹🇷 (@MilliTakimlar) March 23, 2022
There is also the return from suspension for Mert Muldur, although Zeki Celik will likely be picked at right-back owing to his recent good form. Caglar Soyuncu and Merih Demiral are certain starters in central defence, with Caner Erkin holding the left-back spot.
A midfield double-pivot of Orkun Kokcu and Taylan Antalyali could be preferred, with Calhanoglu operating in the No.10 role further ahead. Kuntz will take a late call on picking Cengiz Under for this clash after recent fitness problems; however, if deemed fine, the winger should start on the right.
Kerem Akturkoglu should be preferred to operate from the left wing, with Turkey captain and veteran striker Burak Yilmaz the likely choice to lead the line for Kuntz’s side against Portugal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Cakir; Celik, Demiral, Soyuncu, Erkin: Kokcu, Antalyali; Under, Calhanoglu, Akturoglu; Yilmaz
- Cristiano Ronaldo is vying to play in his fifth World Cup for Portugal.
- Portugal have won 10 of their last 11 qualifying games on home soil.
- Turkey have won their last three World Cup qualifying games.
- Turkey last featured at a World Cup back in 2002, which was also only their second appearance in the tournament.
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— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) March 22, 2022
The Manchester United talisman has the chance to show the world he is not done yet. Often criticised for his performances this term at club-level, Ronaldo can certainly use the time away from England to lend focus to his national side in a crucial game. The 37-year-old has been an exceptional athlete physically, and despite his claims to keep playing on for years to come, one would think this could be his last World Cup
Ronaldo needs to come up with a performance for the ages to help Portugal advance to the final and maybe win it. All eyes will be on the Manchester United man, as he leads Portugal in a crunch encounter of huge importance.
Portugal 2-0 Turkey
Despite many key absentees in defence and midfield, the Portuguese team still has superior quality compared to Turkey. The experience of Jose Fonte and the form of players like Cedric Soares and Raphael Guerreiro may end up helping Portugal keep a tight lid on Turkey’s attackers.
Meanwhile, Portugal have the key difference-makers in the attacking third, with the likes of Diogo Jota, Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Felix all likely to play key roles. Expect Portugal to take this tie on its head and secure a win to advance to the final, while Turkey can only dream about beating their hosts here.