Portugal Too Strong For Boys In Green?
Portugal v Rep of Ireland
Ireland face Portugal on Wednesday with the Portuguese finalising their preparations for a World Cup campaign which pits them against a formidable Germany.
Martin O’Neill has still only managed one win in his brief time as Irish boss – an easy 3-0 win over Latvia in his first game in charge – and has only two friendlies remaining before the serious business of qualifying for the European Championships in 2016 gets underway. O’Neill watched his side put in a fine performance against Italy only to be left frustrated as they were forced to accept a scoreless draw after missing a host of decent chances before they struggled against Costa Rica and came away with 1-1 draw in Philadelphia last weekend.
Kevin Doyle opened the scoring against the World Cup finalists with a powerful header before Celso Borges equalised from the spot for the ten men of Costa Rica in the second half as Ireland – for whom Robbie Keane missed a penalty which would have restored their lead – extended a worrying winless streak to five games.
An injury time header from defender Bruno Alves gave Portugal a 1-0 win over Mexico on Friday. They have lost just once in their last 14 games – a 3-1 defeat to Brazil last September – and won five of their past six, including a pair of wins over Sweden in the play-offs to win both legs after they finished second to Russia in qualifying.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored a remarkable six goals in his last three international games.
O’Neill made wholesale changes to his starting XI for the clash with Costa Rica, and handed an international debut to promising Everton defender Shane Duffy alongside Richard Keogh in a strangely inexperienced centre-back pairing. The Irish boss also introduced six substitutes during the game, one of whom – James McClean – came on for Marc Wilson before half-time in an unfamiliar left-back role he may have to reprise after Wilson suffered a hamstring injury. It seems likely the team will be a more recognisable one for this game, with the likes of Shane Long and Wes Hoolahan expected to be in from the start.
Coach Paulo Bento admitted after their win over Mexico that he ‘does not know’ if reigning World Player of the Year Ronaldo will be fit in time for their opening World Cup game so the Real Madrid forward’s involvement here has to be in serious doubt too, but the coach has a fit squad otherwise.
Andy O’Brien scored the only goal of the game in the last meeting between these nations in Dublin more than nine years ago. Ireland are unbeaten in their last three against these opponents while the overall record in 12 clashes reads six wins for Portugal, four for Ireland and a pair of draws.
With or without Ronaldo – although, of course any side would sorely miss a player of his ability – Portugal are a far stronger side than Ireland and in their final warm-up game any fringe players will be desperate to make an impact on their boss so take Bento’s charges to win here at tasty 5/6 odds.
The Portuguese boss is also likely to put out his strongest side from the off too, before resting some ahead of the crucial tie with Germany so the 7/4 shout on them to lead at half-time and full-time is also worth a punt for those looking to prop up the coffers a bit more.