Portugal Euro 2012: Bento calls on fresh faces – The final 23 man squad
Paulo Bento named his Euro 2012 squad on Monday making Portugal one of the first big-name sides to reveal their cards for this summer’s showpiece event in Poland and Ukraine.
But many of the cards will be unfamiliar. From the 23 players who comprise the list, seven have never featured in a major international competition before and two of them – Braga duo Miguel Lopes and Custodio – have been called up by their country for the first time.
Full-back Lopes and 28-year-old midfielder Custódio have been rewarded for their fine club form after Braga finished a commendable third in the Portuguese Liga.
Lopes emerged victorious in the race for the role of substitute right back, beating Betis’ Nelson to the line. The Porto-owned defender is younger, taller and physically stronger than his counterpart and was rewarded for an impressive second half of the season.
Custodio was selected as Miguel Veloso’s understudy in midfield. As Bento himself confessed, the 28-year-old is a “different player” to the rest of the midfielders in the squad and can only play as a pure No.6, the least offensive-minded member of Bento’s midfield trio.
Custodio jumped to the front of the queue as the coach had doubts about Sporting Lisbon duo Andre Martins and Daniel Carrico. Martins has featured infrequently this season, while Carrico is a centre-back who has only been playing in front of the defence due to Sporting’s lack of options there.
Bento is also placing his trust in the youthful exuberance of SL Benfica forward Nélson Oliveira.
Oliveira’s solitary cap came against Poland on 29 February, six days before marking his UEFA Champions League debut with a goal in his side’s 2-0 victory against FC Zenit St Petersburg.
The 20-year-old is accompanied by a raft of formidable talent, including Real Madrid CF trio Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Fábio Coentrão, Manchester United FC’s Nani and UEFA Champions League finalist Raul Meireles.
Ronaldo, who will captain the side, netted a staggering 60 goals for Los Merengues last term and, if Bento can get the best out of the former Manchester United man, he could help them progress from Euro 2012′s group of death.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absence of Manuel Fernando, despite having an excellent season with Besiktas. Bento considered Fernando too similar to Joao Mountinho and Raul Meireles, instead he has opted for Ruben Micael, who will add more of an attacking flavour.
Former Newcastle United player Hugo Viana was called up as a late replacement for Carlos Martins, after the Granada midfielder was forced to withdraw with a calf injury last week.
Between the sticks Portugal have a new star. Although Eduardo was the starter during the World Cup 2010, Rui Patricio has taken over his position and he shall be the starter during the Euro 2012 and for the foreseeable future as well. The Sporting keeper has established himself as one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe, attracting the interest of many giant clubs, and he will most definitely be the one guarding Portugal’s goal, although both Eduardo and Beto are more than adequate backups.
When comparing Portugal’s squad with the pool of talent boasted by Group B rivals Germany and Netherlands, it is easy to see why the bookmakers are skeptical about the Seleccao’s chances of surviving the ‘Group of Death’ (also containing Denmark, who finished above Portugal in qualifying).
The squad will assemble on 21 May in Obidos, around 80km northwest of Lisbon. Portugal start their campaign on 9 June against Germany in Lviv, before facing Denmark four days later and the Netherlands on 17 June.
“We are going to go as far as we can,” said Bento. “It’s not unreasonable to say that the future European champions could be found in our group.”
Key man: Cristiano Ronaldo. If he hits the ground running, he could carry this team far.
Wildcard: Hugo Viana. Newcastle United fans may remember him as a flop but the playmaker has been enjoying a renaissance at Braga.
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting), Eduardo (Benfica), Beto (Cluj)
Defenders: Joao Pereira (Sporting), Bruno Alves (Zenit St Petersburg), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Rolando (Porto), Miguel Lopes (Braga)
Midfielders: Hugo Viana (Braga), Joao Moutinho (Porto), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Raul Meireles (Chelsea), Ruben Micael (Zaragoza), Custodio (Braga)
Strikers: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Helder Postiga (Zaragoza), Nani (Manchester United), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Silvestre Varela (Porto)