Boston, the Massachusetts south shore, Cape Cod, and Rhode Island's East Bay are well-known bastions of communities that can trace their descent from Portugal, Brazil, and related regions. On some level or another, New England Revolution fans have often pointed to these groups as an as-yet untapped potential fan base for the MLS club. There's even a statute of Eusébio outside the entrance to Gillette Stadium.
On Tuesday night, the full might of that soccer-mad population will be on display in Foxboro. Portugal and Brazil are coming to town, and they're bringing the big guns. The match kicks off at 8:30 PM.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (SC Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon)
DEFENDERS (6): Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Pepe (Real Madrid), Luis Neto (FC Zenit), Ricardo Costa (Valencia), Antunes (Malaga CF)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Andre Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Josue (FC Porto), Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco), Miguel Veloso (FC Dynamo KYIV), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), Ruben Micael (SC Braga)
FORWARDS (6): Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Cristiano Ronaldo* (Real Madrid), Danny (FC Zenit), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Helder Postiga (Valencia), Nani (Manchester United)
* - Withdrawn due to injury
Portugal is coming off of a 4-2 victory over Northern Ireland in World Cup Qualifying, but it was hardly an encouraging win. Cristiano Ronaldo netted a hat-trick, but the Irish went down to nine men on two red cards before the result was certain. Nevertheless, the Portuguese are in first place in their UEFA qualifying group, sporting a 5-1-2 (W-L-D) record with a +8 goal differential. They look likely to qualify along with Russia, though Israel is giving both countries a run.
With Ronaldo back in Madrid after purportedly injuring himself, Portugal will have to deal with a serious attacking vacuum up front. However, given the wealth of firepower that Brazil will run out, it's likely the defense that will take center stage for Brazil.
Pepe is the undeniable star of that back line, with years of experience at Real Madrid and a pedigree for both skill and brutal physicality. His club teammate, Fabio Coentrao, will look to sneak forward on the flanks, but he will need to stay honest defensively to deal with Brazil's attacking fullbacks and Neymar's propensity to drift and attack the wide areas.
Without Ronaldo, this team is lost offensively. He passed Eusébio on the all-time international scoring charts with his goals against Northern Ireland, and he's been the major driving force for them offensively for several years now.
Players like Vieirinha, Danny, and Nani can play that sort of free-flowing, slashing forward game that Ronaldo employs so effectively, but they aren't Cristiano. Frankly, the rest of Portugal's forward corps is average at the international level, and it's going to show.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Julio Cesar (Queen's Park Rangers), Jefferson (Botafogo)
DEFENDERS (8): Dani Alves* (Barcelona), Maicon (Roma), Marcelo* (Real Madrid), Maxwell (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Palmeiras)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Fernando (Shakhtar Donetsk), Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas (PSG), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk)
FORWARDS (3): Neymar (Barcelona), Fred (Fluminense), Hulk* (FC Zenit), Jo (Atletico Mineiro)
* - Injured/Withdrawn due to injury
Brazil crushed Australia on the 7th by a 6-0 scoreline in an international friendly, continuing a good run of dominance under head coach Luis Felipe Scolari. The Selecão are hosting the 2014 World Cup, so they have no qualifying record to speak of. They did, however, win yet another Confederations Cup this summer, rumbling to a perfect record through the group stage all the way until their 3-0 victory over the reigning World Champions, Spain, in the final.
In the course of that tournament, Brazil scored 14 goals and conceded just three. Brazil is 8-2-4 since August 15th of 2012.
The Brazil roster reads like a who's who of key players. Almost any one of those footballers could easily turn a match on its head all on their own, making it difficult to pull out any one standout.
Well, that's not entirely true. Neymar is obviously the key player for this side, a fact well-demonstrated during the Confederations Cup. The newly-minted Barcelona man is probably the third-best player in the world behind Messi and Ronaldo, and he possesses the ability to single-handedly beat some of the greatest sides in the world game. Keep your eyes on him at all times; if you blink, you might miss something brilliant.
Brazil doesn't have many holes, but if there is one, it's probably in defense. With both Dani Alves and Marcelo out, Scolari will have to field a second-choice set of fullbacks. Granted, calling players like Maicon "second-choice" doesn't indicate a great drop in quality, but it's still a concern. That comes on top of the usual notion that Brazil's greatest weakness is it's general defensive quality.
More pressing than the defensive concerns, however, is probably the dearth of quality at goalkeeper. Julio Cesar has been the starter for some time, but his performances both at the club and international level have come under fire in recent seasons, prompting backup keeper Jefferson to get some time. Jefferson is 30 and has valuable club-level experience, but he's largely untested at the international level. The issue for any opposing squad is always getting the ball and keeping it long enough to get into the attacking third and exploit these weaknesses, but if Portugal can work an opening they'll have a chance at stealing a result.
Other Notable Items
Gillette Stadium will be visited by a pair of soccer legends on Tuesday night. A pregame ceremony honoring Brazilian all-time leading goalscorer Pele and Portuguese second all-time leading goalscorer Eusébio will be held. Both have prior affiliations with Gillette Stadium, Pele as its soccer ambassador of sorts (via the sponsorship agreement with Sovereign Santander) and Eusébio because, as mentioned above, he has a statue on the premises.
Also, the Confederations Cup will be available for viewing by fans before the match. It will be on display from 6:30 PM until 7:30 PM in the Gillette Stadium Picnic Zone.
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