World Cup 2022 qualifying Group A
Portugal v Republic of Ireland
Wednesday 1 September, Estadio Algarve, 7.45pm
Live coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 7pm.
Live commentary on 2fm's Game On.
Live blog on RTÉ.ie and the RTÉ News app from 7pm
It is expected to be dry and around 20c when the teams take to the pitch, which is situated 8km north of Faro.
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DAUNTING RESUMPTION BUT FREE HIT FOR KENNY'S SIDE
Last time we saw Stephen Kenny's side in action, they were securing a creditable goalless draw against Hungary in Budapest as the latter warmed up for Euro 2020's Group of Death.
The Hungarians pushed Portugal close before slipping to a 3-0 loss in their Group F opener, and also gave France and Germany a run for their money.
That had come days after the Boys In Green had earned the first win of the Kenny era, coming from behind in an initially disjointed display to eventually overcome Andorra 4-1 as Troy Parrott netted a brace.
Question marks remain for Ireland and they will be put to the toughest of tests against one of the pre-eminent international sides in world football on Wednesday.
Portugal may be coming into this international window "in a state of flux" after an underwhelming Euro 2020 when they ceded their title as Lisbon-based football journalist Tom Kundert told RTÉ Sport but it still remains a hugely tall order for an Irish squad containing a number of inexperienced youngsters.
Especially a side that, in competitive terms, is coming off the back of a discouraging 1-0 home loss to Luxembourg, a result viewed as a real nadir.
Ireland's hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup seemed to essentially end that late March night given there were two games against Portugal still to go and plenty of ground to make up on second-placed Serbia, who Kenny's side host in the return fixture early next week.
That home game and, particularly, the Azerbaijan fixture at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, are where points can most likely be picked up, on paper at least. That makes Wednesday's visit to Estadio Algarve essentially a free hit for Ireland given Portugal are heavy favourites.
DUFFY AMONG THE EARLY SEASON PLUS POINTS
A number of Irish players have been on the move over the summer but one who returned 'home' has arguably been the standout performer in the opening weeks of the new campaign.
Shane Duffy endured a difficult season on loan at Celtic last season but the defender has found himself back in favour since returning to Brighton, winning back his starting place under Graham Potter and finding the net with a quintessential powerhouse header against Watford just under two weeks ago.
His return to form and confidence is crucial given that Portugal's potent attack is up next.
Fellow centre-back Dara O'Shea has also made a good start to the campaign for West Brom, scoring twice as the Championship high-flyers look for an immediate Premier League return. Unfortunately, his team-mate Callum Robinson, who has also been scoring regularly for the Baggies in the opening games, misses out after he tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
Goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu has also made a strong impression on loan at Portsmouth, keeping three clean sheets in four appearances, while Parrott has scored twice and set up another in five League One appearances on loan at MK Dons.
PORTUGAL IN 'FLUX' BUT STILL HEAVY FAVOURITES
As touched upon earlier, Portugal may be in a bit of 'flux' but they still possess world-class talents in all areas of the squad.
Manchester United returnee Cristiano Ronaldo needs no introduction, while Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota will be among those supplying and also firing the ammunition.
At the back, Ruben Dias has established himself as one of the leading defenders in the Premier League, while club team-mate and full-back Joao Canelo has also done similarly in his role.
They are just a few of the talents available to manager Fernando Santos - and the list of players not included in this month's squad because of injury like Joao Felix and Renato Sanches adds to the oceans of depth - and it's the type of elite quality that Kenny cannot avail of at present.
However, the main bone of contention with Portugal is that Santos has not got the best out of his side because his conservative approach puts them into a tactical straitjacket of sorts.
Under his management, it has been a case of structure over flair as evidenced at Euro 2020. At times though they have been more fluid, like in the 4-1 UEFA Nations League win over Croatia last September.
Notably though, Cristiano Ronaldo was absent for that fixture and his role presents a Catch-22 for Portugal. As we saw at Euro 2020, he is still their most reliable goalscorer, yet Portugal attack more fluidly when their country's all-time greatest player is not available.
Still, with or without Ronaldo - and the latter prospect is not an option especially as he can break the all-time international goals mark with a single goal in this window - Portugal are expected to breeze through to the World Cup and overcome Ireland along the way.
Ireland have played Portugal 13 times overall since the first fixture in 1946, winning four and losing seven including a 5-1 loss in a 2014 friendly in New Jersey.
Notable fixtures between the sides include the pair of draws in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, which helped the Boys In Green and the Portuguese to pip the Netherlands to the top two places in their group, while it was Portugal who came out on top 3-0 in a Euro 96 qualifier towards the end of Jack Charlton's reign.
Also in 1972 in the Brazilian city of Recife, they met in the Brazil Independence Cup where a Portuguese side featuring Jose Mourinho's father in goal won 2-1.
Follow Portugal v Ireland with our live blog on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app, watch live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 7pm and listen to live commentary on 2fm's Game On.
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