Portugal must recover from self-destruct in Salvador

by Alan Robins

Pepe PortugalThe emotion last Monday was raw, if anything it was worse the morning after. Since the line-ups were announced there has been a mixture of disbelief, disappointment, anger and tears.

Two heavyweights were due to meet in the Arena Fonte Nova; sadly one turned out to be more of the feather class. For a team with one striker in the squad; that had been hit by injuries before the tournament; that had players returning to fitness, Germany’s 4-0 destruction of Portugal was impressive, especially considering Die Nationalmannschaft played most of the second half with their foot off the pedal.

Portugal by then had pressed the self-destruct button. Arguably the hand had been hovering over the button since before the squads were submitted. The mix up over Fernando, the decision to leave Ricardo Quaresma behind in favour of Nani who had in a season, less appearances, goals and assists than the Porto player had in the six months since joining. Whilst other countries had embraced youth, Paulo Bento appeared to be sticking with tried and trusted. The only real nod to youth was the inclusion of midfielders Rafa Silva and William Carvalho.

There was disbelief that the superb Carvalho was not included over an old favourite of Bento – Miguel Veloso, surprise at Nani over Varela. For the first ten minutes the game was even, then came João Perreira’s blind back pass which had Rui Patricio scrambling across his goal. A hasty clearance straight to Sami Khedira should have seen a goal. Portugal escaped but only temporarily. Perreira again; this time bringing down Mario Göetze in the box, Thomas Müller dispatching the penalty for the first in his hat-trick.

Things would get worse. Lax marking allowed Mats Hummels to head home from a corner before Pepe [it always seem to be Pepe] in a moment of crass stupidity saw red; Müller’s goals adding the coup de grace. Injuries to Fabio Coentrão and Hugo Almeida have effectively reduced the squad to twenty.

Half time time offered Bento an opportunity to reinvigorate the team, for them ‘to leave their blood on the field’, to make some changes, maybeNeto, Silva or Carvalho. No, instead Bento ensured they went down with a whimper. Damage limitation by strangulation rather than trying to get at Germany’s full backs, rather than try to get something back. But then Bento’s starting XI was safety first to begin with.

A draining afternoon is followed by a game against the USA in Manaus today. It is arguably a must win match but Bento has already hinted that he will change little, that it is too late to experiment. If the game is approached in that manner then it is difficult to see Portugal progressing.

For many the glass is not just half empty but has been drained and thrown away.

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