Portugal in bullish mood to take on Vikings

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The time has come - the Paulo Bento era starts tonight as Portugal host Denmark in a match where the three points are utterly essential to the hosts' chances of booking a ticket to Eastern Europe in the summer of 2012.

It must be said that the feeling here is one of optimism and the lacklustre performance at South Africa is today nothing but a bittersweet memory.

The whole country seems to be rallying round Bento, and the conditions are perfect to get the only result that matters. Preferably, with the cherry of ‘free-flowing football’ on top.

The call-up

In his first squad, Paulo Bento didn’t make too  many changes. Yet there are still a few highlights.

After years of possessing top right-backs, it is ironically the left side that currently boasts the most quality. Therefore, the inclusion of João Pereira isn’t much of a surprise. The former Braga full-back still has to prove he can cut it at top level, but there’s hardly a better option at present.

More interesting is the return of Carlos Martins to the Selecção. The Benfica playmaker is enjoying the best period of his career and seems to be finally fulfilling the potential many had seen in him during the earlier stages of his career.

Yet, while he more than deserves his call-up, Martins’ name stands out due to the well-publicized feud between he and Bento during their time together at Sporting.

Toulouse midfielder Paulo Machado will be delighted to get his first call-up and, while unexpected, he’s certainly earned his spurs at club level.

After fading into oblivion at FC Porto, Machado moved to St-Etienne on loan before his eye-catching performance sealed a permanent move to Toulouse. At 24, he’s a proven player in Le Championnat and definitely one for the future.

The match

Preparations suffered a minor setback when both Liédson and Miguel Veloso were forced to drop out through injury, with Ruben Micael and Manuel Fernandes replacing them.

According to the latest reports – and that is more than just a bit of speculation - Carlos Martins and Tiago will play together in the midfield, while there’s still no place for Varela in the starting XI.

If that proves true, it will be a bit disappointing for João Moutinho who has been an instant hit at Porto. Unlike Tiago, Moutinho is a regular starter and his versatility would perhaps better complement Martins.

A bolder move would also see Ronaldo being deployed upfront with Varela playing on the wing. The way the former Sporting trainee has been playing, he would add more firepower than Almeida.

But hey, let’s hope the Werder Bremen striker can prove me wrong and find his scoring boots.

Two years ago Denmark beat Portugal 3-2 in Lisbon to dent our prospects of qualify to the World Cup, but tonight will be a different match.

The Selecção will be out to prove something and will attack and press from the moment the referee blows the whistle.

With all due respect to the Danish side, the Portugeezer expects them to be the typical Scandinavian team: a tactically sound and well organized team with a tremendous workrate. However, given they will be without mercurial striker Nicklas Bendtner and are facing a bullish Portuguese side, it is hard to see anything but a home win.
Likely starting line-ups

PORTUGAL: Eduardo; Sílvio, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Fábio Coentrão; Raul Meireles, Tiago, Carlos Martins; Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida
Denmark: Thomas Sorensen; Lars Jacobsen, Per Kroldrup , Simon Kjaer, Leon Jessen; Christian Poulsen , William Kvist, Daniel Jensen; Dennis Rommendhal, Nicklas Pedersen, Martin Vingaard

The Portugeezer’s prediction: Portugal 3-0 Denmark