Following Monday’s qualifying draw for the FIFA World Cup 2022, the road to Qatar for A Seleção is now clear. Aaron Barton takes a closer look at Portugal’s opponents.
Fernando Santos’ men were the first ball to be drawn, placing them in Group A alongside Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. On paper it is a favourable draw, made all the more easier due to Portugal being one of the top seeds, meaning they safely avoided any of the other international heavyweights and as a result, should fancy their chances at topping the group and ensuring safe passage to the tournament. However, with that being said nothing in football is ever easy and knowing Portugal, there are likely to be ups and downs along the road to qualification.
What To Expect from Our Opponents
It’s fair to say that Serbia poses the biggest threat to Portugal in the entire qualification process, in recent times they qualified for the most recent edition of the World Cup, finishing 3rd in the group stage in 2014. They have an abundance of talent in their ranks, the likes of Sergej Milinković-Savić, Luka Jović, Filip Kostić and Porto loanee Marko Grujić, the games against Ljubiša Tumbaković’s men will by no means be a walk in the park.
Portugal and Serbia (in its current state following it’s split from Serbia and Montenegro) have squared off six times in their history, with Portugal winning three and drawing the other three. Most recently, Portugal and Serbia shared the same qualifying group for the UEFA European Championships, resulting in a 1-1 draw at home and a 4-2 victory away.
v Republic of Ireland
The third seed in the group is the Republic of Ireland, managed by Stephen Kenny. They last qualified for the FIFA World Cup back in 2002, failing to make it in their last four attempts. However, they have improved on the international stage, at least in European competition, qualifying recently for Euro 2016 and reaching the Round of 16, their best-ever finish at a European Championships.
More recently, they missed out on a Euro 2020 place despite losing just one game throughout the entire qualification process. We spoke to Luso-Irishman Sam O’Hanahran, who lent us his Irish expertise to give us a short lowdown on the current state of the ROI national team.
“It’s a team in complete transition at the moment, manager Stephen Kenny (former Republic of Ireland U21 manager) is trying to bring through some talent from the U21s into the seniors with him. The likes of Jayson Molumby, Jason Knight and Adam Idah have been getting minutes and will surely feature even more in 2021”, Sam told us. “In terms of out-and-out senior players, Aston Villa forward Conor Hourihane is pretty much a guaranteed starter and a solid player. We have quality in depth at right-back with both Tottenham’s Matt Doherty and Everton’s Seámus Coleman, goalkeeper Darren Randolph has performed very well for us throughout the years and now he has some competition in the form of 22-year-old Caoimhin Kelleher who has been starting recently and impressing for Liverpool FC in the absence of the injured Allison Becker.”
Luxembourg is still very much a minnow in international football, failing to qualify for a major tournament (FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championships) in its history. Luxembourg and Portugal are two countries that have long-standing relations, with the Portuguese-Luxembourger or Lusoburguês, making up just over 16% of the countries population, the largest percentage of any foreign group. Footballing wise, Portugal and Luxembourg are also very familiar to each other, squaring off in the recent Euro 2020(1) qualifying group. Portugal won 3-0 and 2-0. Luxembourg did, however, perform well in several qualifying games. They were cruelly denied a draw with eventual group winners Ukraine after conceding a goal in the dying seconds of the match, the same Ukraine side who went on to beat Portugal in Kyiv. Their squad features a few players who will be familiar to the Portuguese football audience, including Gil Vicente’s Tim Hall, Vincent Thill of Nacional and Casa Pia’s Marvin da Graça.
The bottom seed and a side that Fernando Santos’ men should, in theory, not have an issue with playing. Like Luxembourg, they have never qualified for a major tournament and in their most recent qualifying campaign (Euro 2020), they lost seven of their eight matches, drawing the other, failing to win a single game. Portugal and Azerbaijan have went head-to-head six times in their history, winning five and drawing one. The most recent meeting between the two sides came during FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifying, with Portugal winning both games (2-0 & 3-0).
Azerbaijan however, have displayed signs of improvement of late, drawing their last four games 0-0 after previously keeping just one clean sheet in five, showing they are becoming more adept at shutting teams out.