Portugal World Cup Roster 2014: Updates on 23-Man Squad, Starting 11 Projections
Portugal head into familiar territory as they prepare for a two-legged playoff against Sweden for a spot in the 2014 World Cup.
In qualifying for both the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship, they had to get past Bosnia and Herzegovina in a playoff. While Portugal were able to do so, you can't be happy to see this happen for a third time in a row if you're a supporter.
They finished second in Group F in UEFA qualifying. Russia were just a point ahead and already have their place in Brazil booked.
Portugal aren't one of the best teams in the world, but they have far too much talent to have this scenario rear its ugly head again. They drew at home with Northern Ireland and drew home and away to Israel. Turn any one of those draws into a win and Portugal are top of the group.
Instead, their hopes rely on stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic and breaking down a tough Sweden side. It's far from a guarantee that Portugal will do so.
Paulo Bento's fate as national team coach hangs in the balance. Should he get through, he may stay on, as it's far too late to try to integrate a new coach's style and have him decide on a final lineup. For better or worse, the Portuguese Football Federation has hitched its wagons to Bento.
Only time will tell if that was the right move.
Oct. 22: What's Paulo Bento Going to Do at Striker?
One of the biggest problems that continues to plague Portugal is the lack of a true No. 9. When playing with a lone striker, you need to have a player who can finish off the attack and hold up the ball. This isn't Spain, where you can afford to play with a false nine like Cesc Fabregas and not lose much in the attack.
Portugal don't have a good enough midfield to play without a striker, and the ones they've put in the position haven't been effective.
Paulo Bento often relies on experienced players like Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga, but neither have been the answer.
You can't put Ronaldo up top because he's not a natural striker, and is best used on the left wing. That's been tried before and hasn't been at all successful.
Should Portugal qualify for the World Cup, you'd have to expect that Bento will try to shake things up.
Nelson Oliveira could be a good replacement. Although he's only 22 years old, he's had experience with the senior team, picking up 14 caps. Oliveira has been on a good run of form with Stade Rennais, scoring four goals in nine appearances.
Eder is also an option. While he's only picked up six caps, he scored 13 goals in the Portuguese first division for Braga last season. That was a big jump for the 25-year-old, as he had combined to have just 12 in his first four seasons in the league, all which were with Academica.
If Portugal can get the better of Sweden, Bento would be wise to give either of these players a look in the team in the buildup to the World Cup.
Projected Starting 11
Paulo Bento's tactics have been polarizing, to say the least.
He's got plenty of critics who argue that his system is too unimaginative. Portugal have had a hard time scoring goals, and the team doesn't take enough chances on the pitch.
Bento could opt for something like the lineup below for the two legs against Sweden. If they can get past Sweden, Bento would be able to experiment a little more and see what works.
The formation is a 4-3-3 that could easily shift into a 4-2-3-1 by dropping the wingers back into midfield.
Projected Starting Lineup
GK: Rui Patricio
RB: Joao Pereira
CB: Bruno Alves
CB: Ricardo Costa
LB: Fabio Coentrao
CDM: Joao Moutinho
CDM: Miguel Veloso
CM: Raul Meireles
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo
ST: Helder Postiga
GK: Beto, Anthony Lopez
DEF: Pepe, Neto, Cedric Soares, Vitorino Antunes
MID: Josue, Ruben Micael, Andre Martins, Danny, Silvio
ST: Hugo Almeida, Nelson Oliveira
DEF: Henrique Sereno, Rolando, Nelson Marcos, Miguel Lopes
MID: Andre Gomes, Ruben Amorim, Hugo Viana, Carlos, Martins, Vieirinha, Paulo Machado
ST: Pizzi, Bruma, Silvestre Varela, Eder