Portugal will take leave from the Lisbon base this afternoon for the warmer climes of Faro with Goncalo Guedes insisting their hot streak can be regained against Ireland tomorrow.
By their high standards, the Portuguese have suffered a dip of late, failing to win in three and losing twice at the Euros in June, but normal order is expected to be restored when the World Cup qualification tilt resumes at Estadio Algarve.
Guedes is certainly of that one-track mind, determined to put Portugal clear of Serbia at the top of Group A and help team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo to become the top scorer in the history of international football.
The Valencia striker — whose winner clinched his nation victory in the 2019 Uefa Nations final against the Netherlands — could be a beneficiary of the disappointing Euros. He didn’t see a minute of action as the holders bowed out at the last-16 stage to Belgium.
“The European finals are over,” affirmed the 24-year-old, denying any hangover from the summer tournament. “We want to play a great game against Ireland, win and score several goals. We’ll be giving it everything to win this game in front of our own fans.”
In tandem with that aim is breaking a world record. Media outlets from around the globe have descended on the federation’s City of Football anticipating Ronaldo’s appearance.
He was among the 16 players involved in yesterday’s first training session but has yet to confirm whether he’ll participate in today’s pre-match press conference.
There’s the matter of him trying to score the one goal necessary to from surpass Iran forward Ali Daei’s 109-goal haul but the first words about his return to Manchester United are the gold-dust the international audience most crave.
“Cristiano is a player who inspires a lot of people,” said Guedes, who scored in Valencia’s 3-0 La Liga win over Alaves at the weekend.
“His presence in the national team is essential and it’s a great pride and privilege to share the dressing room with him. You can only enjoy playing in the same team and we’ll do everything possible to help him beat the world record on Wednesday.”
That’s ominous for Ireland, without a point in the group nor a striker in form for club or country. Unsurprisingly, Guedes wasn’t name-checking any of Stephen Kenny’s props when pressed, only resorting to the stereotypical traits.
“Ireland don’t have any points from the campaign but they are certainly a team with good weapons,” he said in a hesitant tone. “We haven’t had time to analyse them fully but plan to identify their weaknesses and take advantage.”
Given Ireland’s problems in both boxes during Stephen Kenny’s reign, you’d have to wonder how long that section of video analysis will entail but the first priority for Fernando Santos is having his key pillars available.
Leicester City’s Ricardo Pereira had to withdraw after pulling his hamstring while setting up the opening goal for Jamie Vardy in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Norwich on Saturday, paving the way for Nelson Semedo to be drafted in.
Also ruled out yesterday was Sporting Lisbon newcomer Gonçalo Inacio while nine of the squad, including Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Joao Mario, Bruno Fernandes, and Andre Silva, were confined to the gym. All eyes will be on which of them partake in today’s pre-match training session.
For Ireland, the only news to emerge since they assembled on Sunday was the withdrawal of goalkeeper Mark Travers yesterday.
He wasn’t expected to play, considering Gavin Bazunu took full advantage of his shaky competitive debut in Serbia by starting the next four games but the illness he suffered at the weekend prevented him from travelling.
Into his place has come James Talbot, the Bohemians stopper, when the expectation was the cavity would be filled by Darren Randolph. It seems neither manager nor player were keen on the late call-up.
Fifty-times capped Randolph reacted to his axing from the squad last Friday by declaring he was fit and training, countering the impression given by Kenny that he had work to do in order to be in the picture.
Crunch time arrived when Travers stayed behind at Bournemouth, with the convenient excuse of an imminent move from West Ham United not adding up.
Conor Hourihane was in exactly the same situation, delaying his trip to Portugal for a medical at Sheffield United to be completed.
Indeed, Kenny last week stated that at least three of his players were likely to be on the move as tomorrow’s transfer deadline looms.
Otherwise, the FAI have declared everyone else fit and ready to go, releasing footage of the squad training at The Campus, the luxurious training ground in Quinta do Lago that Mick McCarthy brought the group to in 2019.
There was only one brief glimpse of Aaron Connolly in the 60-second montage, the Brighton striker who complained of a foot problem prior to Saturday’s defeat at Everton.
The Galwegian was in line to feature, as flagged by Kenny in midweek, but remained on the bench and it remains to be seen if the injury will affect his international involvement. Ireland have two more qualifiers after tomorrow, the visits of Azerbaijan and Serbia to Aviva Stadium and his threat will be more in demand for those clashes where results are deemed realistic.