After a successful week for the men’s under 21 side, winning all 3 of their European Championship Group games, and the senior men’s side kicking off their World Cup qualifying campaign with an unbeaten start (two wins and a draw), it is the turn of the Seleção A Feminina to have a successful international break as they pursue a place at the Women’s 2022 European Championships. The Portuguese face a tricky task against Russia, a team ranked 23 in the FIFA world rankings, seven places above Portugal, but games are not played on paper. The two-legged tie will be held in Lisboa, at Estádio do Restelo, on 9th April at 18:30 GMT. Four days later, the return fixture will be played (13th April at 15:00) at the Spasan Arena in Moscow. Most recently, the two sides squared off in Portugal at the 2017 Algarve Cup, an annual invitational tournament. Russia ran out 1-0 winners.
Russia’s record is strong, they have qualified for the last 3 European Championships, although failing to reach the knockout phase in any. The team is managed by Yuri Krasnozhan, who replaced the manager for the last five years, Elena Fomina. Krasnozhan is a manager with varied experience and controversy. In 2011, during his spell at Lokomotiv Moscow, he was sacked for alleged match-fixing in a game against Anzhi, the game ended 2-1 to Anzhi. The Lokomotiv team that year went on to win the league. By the end of the 2011 season, Krasnozhan was in the hot seat at Anzhi, managing the great Samuel Eto’o and Roberto Carlos.
Back to the national side, Russia finished second place in their group behind the formidable Netherlands, losing to Oranje 2-0 and 1-0. In qualifying, they favoured the 4-2-3-1 formation. This allowed the three attacking midfielders to shine, especially Nelli Korovkina, who finished as Russia’s top goalscorer with five goals. The forward plays just behind the striker in the middle of the attacking 3. Currently, she is playing her football at Lokomotiv Moscow. Her teammate, Marina Fedorova, also showed her skill scoring four goals from the wide-right position. Portugal must be careful of the attacking talent in midfield. This will be a tricky task, as these players have considerable talent. Furthermore, as Krasnozhan was only appointed in December, it remains to be seen how he will shape up.
Portugal has also been playing their joker card on several occasions in qualifying. Francisco Neto has left fans guessing about his formations. Against Scotland, it appeared to be a 4-4-2 diamond and other times, such as against Finland, Neto has favoured a 4-3-3.
In whatever formation, Claudia Neto has been the stand-out player Portuguese player for a few seasons. The midfielder is currently applying her trade in Florence. In 2018, she won the best player of the tournament at the Algarve Cup. She started 7 out of 8 group games, featuring on the bench in the final group game. She also managed to score two goals in the process.
The top scorer for Portugal in qualifying was Ana Capeta. Surprisingly, she did not start in every game. The striker faces a lot of competition for the number 9 position, Ana Borges (SCP) and Diana Silva (Aston Villa) are both vying for the role. Although, Capeta started 2 out of the last 3 games scoring goals in both of them.
The basis for the success in the qualifying group was the defence. Portugal only conceded two goals, both of which came after the 90th minute, against Finland (1-0 and 0-1). A bitter disappointment as a draw would have been enough to qualify. Perhaps this is a cause for concern. Although, the defence stood firm in the other 6 matches. Head coach, Francisco Neto, opted for mainly the same players. In goal was the experienced Patricia Morais. At right-back was Monica Mendes, capped over 50 times for Portugal. The two centre backs, Rebelo and Costa, continued their defence pairing for Sporting CP. Finally, left-back, Joana Marchao, completed a full-house for Sporting CP. The only changes came when the versatile Borges (Sporting CP) played instead of Monica Mendes for three games. The latter is not in the 25 women squad, after featuring, mainly, on the Sporting CP bench. Another question mark at the back is in the goalkeeper area. Patricia Morais lost her place playing for Sporting CP in goal to compatriot Ines Ferreria. Interestingly, she is also in the squad, so does Neto go for experience or form? I would expect the back four to consist of Borges, Rebelo, Costa and Marchao.
The link provided shows who is in the Portuguese 25 women squad: https://www.fpf.pt/Portals/0/mapa_playoff_certo.pdf
It is expected to be a close encounter against two excellent sides. Russia may well be considered favourites due to the rankings, and the second leg being played in Moscow but, Portugal is more than ready to take this next step of back to back Women’s European Championship qualifications. As so often is the case, the game will be won in midfield. Portugal needs to neutralise the attacking threat to stand a good chance of winning. Both teams will enter the tie with a few question marks over their line-ups and formations. If your appetite is now whetted, you can view the clash on Canal 11.
By Oliver Thomas