Following the disappointment of their doomed Euro 2020 campaign where they were knocked out by Belgium in the Round of 16, Portugal return to action once again in the World Cup qualifiers against Ireland. Defending their continental crown was always going to be an uphill task for Cristiano Ronaldo and his men who had been slotted into the Group of Death.
Although they did make it out of the group stages after winning their match against Hungary, Fernando Santos’ side had their summer cut short after Thorgan Hazard scored the only goal on the night for Belgium in the Round of 16.
Ireland were on a run of 11 matches without a win before they got to celebrate a 4-1 victory against Andorra in June. They followed that up by holding Hungary to a goalless stalemate in their most recent match.
Although they are the hot favourites and the gulf in quality is quite huge, Portugal has defeated Ireland only once in their last four clashes across all competitions. 10,100 fans will be allowed to attend the World Cup qualifying fixture at the Estadio Algarve in Portugal. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at both sides.
PORTUGAL’S WORLD CUP QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN SO FAR
Despite a 2-2 draw with Serbia, Portugal have beaten Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in Group A and comfortably lead the table with seven points from three matches. Although they are level on points with second-placed Serbia, Portugal occupy the top spot courtesy of their better goal difference.
Following the match against Ireland, Portugal will clash against the World Cup hosts Qatar in a friendly before rounding off the international break with another match against Azerbaijan. With the exception of any major setbacks, their road to Qatar looks pretty smooth and easy.
PREDICTED LINEUPS AND TACTICS AGAINST IRELAND
Ricardo Pereira sustained yet another hamstring injury this weekend and will be out of action for a really long time. Meanwhile, players like William Carvalho, Joao Felix, Renato Sanches, and Jose Fonte haven’t seen much action since the Euro 2020 either.
Pepe continues to be formidable at the ripe age of 38 and will lead the defence with Ruben Dias. Bruno Fernandes has been in top form since the resumption of the Premier League and he even scored a hattrick in the season opener. He will be partnering with his soon-to-be teammate Cristiano Ronaldo who has made a sensational return to Manchester United.
Ronaldo will have his eyes set on breaking Ali Daei’s record and becoming the highest scoring international player in history. Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota are expected to share offensive duties with Ronaldo.
Probable Playing XI (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Cancelo, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro; Danilo Pereira, Joao Moutinho, Bruno Fernandes; Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota
IRELAND’S WORLD CUP QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN SO FAR
After ending the UEFA Nations League without a single win to their name, Ireland would’ve wanted to make the World Cup qualifiers count. However, Stephen Kenny’s boys are without a win after their first two fixtures and their qualification hopes continue to dwindle.
Although they had their moments against Serbia, the Boys in Green ended up losing 3-2. In what was an ‘embarrassing’ encounter according to Ireland captain Seamus Coleman, they went down 1-0 against Luxembourg.
Despite Ireland sticking with manager Stephen Kenny who has won just once in 13 matches, their hopes of making it to the World Cup for the first time since 2002 are pretty frail at this point.
PREDICTED LINEUP AND TACTICS AGAINST PORTUGAL
Ireland will be welcoming uncapped defenders Nathan Collins and Andrew Omobamidele into the fray for the first time. James McCarthy and Robbie Brady aren’t expected to be a part of the squad however. Experienced goalkeeper Darren Randolph has also been left out.
The Boys in Green will also take on Azerbaijan and Serbia during this international break and Kenny will try to manage the fatigue of the side. A three-man defensive setup led by Shane Duffy will aim to curb the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo in the game, although it’s easier said than done.
Probable Playing XI (3-5-1): Caoimhin Kelleher; John Egan, Shane Duffy, Dara O’Shea; Matt Doherty, Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane, Josh Cullen, James McClean; Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah