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Rising Star: Fabio Coentrao

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, many Portugal fans would barely have heard of Fabio Coentrao. Fast forward twelve months and he’s the name on the lips of every Portuguese supporter.

The young defender began his career with hometown club Rio Ave, before joining Portuguese giants Benfica in July 2007 as a highly rated 19 year old. Having spent much of his first two years with the club either on the bench or out on loan, many may have questioned his potential to make the breakthrough at Benfica; the past year has seen him answer these questions in final style.

Coentrao has been a regular for Benfica this season, winning the ‘Young Player of the Month’ award three times as well as ‘Breakthrough Player of the Year’ for his performances as Benfica secured a domestic league and cup double.

His impressive form at club level allowed him to make a late run at breaking into the national squad in the time for the World Cup. Coentrao only made his debut for Portugal in the second leg of the World Cup playoff against Bosnia-Herzegovina, and had four caps when the tournament began. Two weeks later and after only eight games for his country he is already one of the team’s most impressive players.

Fabio Coentrao (left) has come a long way in twelve months

The young full-back has strong attacking instincts, a clear believer in the ‘best form of defence is attack’ mentality. Coentrao like to spend as much time as possible in the opposition half, something he showcased brilliantly during the 7-0 thrashing of North Korea as his fine run and cross set up the side’s third goal.

He has also been known to operate on the wing during the early years of his career and occasionally for Benfica, which goes some way to explaining how at home he looks in the final third and the understanding he has been able to strike up with Cristiano Ronaldo down Portugal’s left.

Coentrao is also gifted on the defensive end, a key part of Portugal’s defence which came through the group stage without conceding a single goal. He found himself up against highly effective right wing pairings in the matches with Brazil and Spain; Maicon and Dani Alves for the Brazilians and Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta for Spain. In both games he acquitted himself admirably and rarely looked out of place against such esteemed opponents.

Although Portugal’s campaign ultimately ended in a disappointing Second Round defeat to Spain, a defeat which brought criticism for manager Carlos Queiroz and captain Cristiano Ronaldo in particular, Coentrao can take a measure of comfort in the knowledge that his stock has risen dramatically.

Currently plying his trade for Benfica, how much longer Coentrao will be playing his football in Portugal remains to be seen. The World Cup is the biggest shop window around and no one has done more than Coentrao to improve his reputation.

The talent that the young defender has shown in South Africa suggests that he could soon become one of the top left-backs in the world and a great addition for any of Europe’s top clubs. It may seem a bit of a stretch for a player who couldn’t get in the Benfica team a year ago, but as Coentrao has shown, a lot can happen in a year.

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