From the home of Mourinho, Ronaldo and Xavier
On Saturday, Portugal begin their play-off against Bosnia & Herzegovina.
I won’t claim the Balkans were the team to avoid in the draw – that was Ireland – but they are still capable of giving the Selecção plenty of headaches.
The first match will be played at Benfica's Estádio da Luz and a roaring crowd will try to steer the home side forward with hopes of settling the play-off right away.
There were a few surprise inclusions in the Portuguese team. Chelsea goalkeeper Hilário and Benfica left winger Fábio Coentrão earned their first call-up, but perhaps the most puzzling decision was the one to bring in former FC Porto defender Ricardo Costa.
OK, so Costa happens to be playing in Wolfsburg with Dzeko and Misimovic, but with four centre-backs already in the squad and after being exiled from the Portugal squad for more than three years, it begs the question: is Costa there just to provide inside information about the Bosnian duo?
And if so, wouldn’t a phone call have been enough?
Putting things into perspective, would you bring Pávon into the Spain squad just because he used to play with Zidane? I don’t think so...
With Ronaldo, Quaresma and Danny all missing, Fábio Coentrão will provide cover on the wings and, like Duda, can also be deployed as a left-back.
He’s been impressing for Benfica and now has the opportunity to play for the national team.
Tiago and Raúl Meireles are lucky to make the squad as both Hugo Viana and Rúben Micael have been on-form as of late.
Tiago hasn’t featured for Juventus as much as he’d like this season and Meireles has so far been dreadful for FC Porto.
But with experience playing a big role at this level, not many will complain about that decision.
Club vs country
Much ink has been spilt about the Cristiano Ronaldo controversy. Was he or was he not injured?
Who would win the no-holds-barred battle for Ronaldo’s love: Real Madrid or Portugal?
While Queiroz didn’t handle the whole situation in the best way – he seemed to forget he was once on the other side of the fence back in the day at Manchester United – in the end everything was resolved.
And it was as simple as the Portuguese doctors checking the player's condition and deciding he wasn’t indeed fit to play.
Now, was all the razzmatazz necessary?
As mentioned in a previous post, I believe Bosnia deserved to go through. They had a wonderful campaign in a group including Spain, Turkey and Belgium.
And had FIFA decided to forgo the uber-ridiculous play-off seeding system, they could even be in a better position to secure a ticket to South Africa.
Not that they’ll give up that easily. Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic and Zvjezdan Misimovic are the star performers and, in all honesty, could all play a role for Portugal.
Together, the trio represent a more than respectable frontline and they’ll be looking to take a decent result back to their home turf.
Miroslav Blazevic – who took Croatia to third place at France '98 – has done a terrific job with the side and will hope to extend the fairy-tale run.
But can they pull off what would be an incredible upset?
Even without many of the squad's wingers, Portugal still boast a lot of firepower and Bosnia’s Achilles heel is the defence.
The striking forces bear comparison, but the Portugal team has world-class defenders and that might just prove the difference between the two sides.
With a fully-packed Estádio da Luz cheering for the Selecção, I don’t see Portugal losing at home in such a critical match. I'll go for 2-0.
Despite all the below-average performances put by the Portuguese team during qualification, they’ll still win on Saturday.
This result will, however, keep Bosnian dreams alive.
Key man: Deco
Even when Ronaldo is on the pitch it is the Brazilian-born schemer who stands out and orchestrates the offence.
His technique, class and experience will be invaluable to complete the Bosnian job.
Former Benfica goalkeeper and German international Robert Enke passed away on Tuesday when he jumped in front of a train.
Many people in the game expressed their shock and disbelief at the tragic death of a man they regarded as an example to follow.
I too couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness and I''d like to express my condolences to the family.
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