Portugal will host Serbia in a 2016 UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Estadio da Luz on Sunday. Portugal are second in Group I after three matches played, one point behind leaders Denmark but with a game in hand. Serbia have four points and will overtake their opponents with a victory here. The sides have met on just two occasions which came in the 2008 Euro Qualifiers where they drew both legs 1-1. Portugal went on to qualify as runners-up to Poland, beating third-place Serbia by three points.
To Win (90mins)
Portugal are still looking to win their first European Championship and went dramatically close in 2004, only to be pipped by Greece. They have a good track record in the competition and have always reached the quarter-finals, reaching the semi-finals four times and finishing runners-up once. The biggest problem for Portugal is qualifying smoothly; they always seem to have one puzzling result during the qualifying round that forces them to have to go through the playoff round. Outgoing coach Paulo Bento did not leave the squad in the best circumstances after he was dismissed following the embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Albania, but the Selecao have showed massive signs of improvement under Fernando Santos. They come into the match in good form with three successive wins over Denmark and Armenia in the group, followed by an impressive 1-0 victory away to Argentina in a friendly last year November.
Portugal are blessed with a reliable core of veterans in Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho and Nani. And for the first time in several years, the country is producing a plethora of promising youngsters that are just beginning to emerge as viable options. One of them being Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho who was named the Best Revelation in the Primeira Liga last season. Some felt that he was unfairly passed over for Player of the Year. He is often compared with former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira and their styles are not dissimilar. Although not blessed with much pace, Carvalho relies on positioning and an impressive ability to read the game. He is good in the air and has also showed an ability to deliver good long balls. Ronaldo has yet to show his very best form at a major tournament for Portugal, but at the start of an exciting new era for the nation under the tutelage of Santos, he’ll be hoping to prove why he’s been voted the Best Portuguese Player of All Time ahead of the late, great Eusebio. Ronaldo was outstanding for Los Blancos in the El Clasico last weekend despite his side finishing second-best to Barcelona and netted his 31st La Liga goal of the season.
Serbia are a canny tip to be Europe’s next breakthrough act if Radovan Curcic can harness a thrilling array of talent that includes Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, Lazar Markovic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov. The Eagles have suffered just two losses from their last fourteen matches with seven victories and five draws in all competitions. They suffered a shocking 3-1 defeat to Denmark in their last group game and they need to start winning matches if they are to secure a place in the Euro 2016 in France. Serbia play an exciting, flexible style of football, adept at pressing high up the pitch and also sitting deep if need be and catch teams on the counter with ruthless efficiency. They work extremely hard and have a boundless energy which is capable of overwhelming opponents. Ivanovic is Serbia’s rock at the heart of their defence and while the depth behind him is solid, none of the available options can offer the same blend of experience, leadership, vision and raw athleticism. Nemanja Gudelj and Matic have marshalled the midfield with flawless precision and if Portugal were thinking of dominating the middle of the park, then they have a huge task at hand. The midfield will be the most important part of the team, with pacey and tricky wingers like Zoran Tosic, Markovic and Tadic looking a deadly threat going forward.
VERDICT: Draw 11/4
After losing to Albania and France, Portugal have done well to turn their form around and win their last three matches. However, it must be noted they only won by scoring a goal in each of those ties which does not reflect well on their attack. Serbia’s main strength is their solid defensive unit which starts from their midfield and they also have a knack of rising for the big occasion. Serbia are tipped to earn a commendable draw at 11/4.