Back in January of this year if you had told Andre Almeida he would not only be called to the Portugal's World Cup Squad, but that he would also start for the Selecao, he would have probably given you a look of indignation along with a confident trusting smile. In May, he achieved the first part when he was included in Bento's 23, this Sunday he should see the second come true.
Born in Portugal's capital, the 23-year-old Andre Almeida got his start in Portuguese football in 2005 where he played for Sporting as a 16-year-old. After not being invited to Sporting's U17 team the following year, Almeida took his dream of becoming a professional footballer to lower reputation Alverca, where he spent the 06/07 season. After a good season in Alverca's U19 team, Almeida caught the attention of a bigger club, as Lisbon's Belenenses plucked him from Alverca for their U19 team. His performances at the junior level earned him his first professional contract, and his professional debut came in the 08/09 season.
After three seasons at Belenenses, Almeida's phone rang; on the other side an unexpected voice - Jorge Jesus. Jesus, fresh off winning the Portuguese Championship for Benfica, had coached Belenenses the year Almeida joined their junior team, and had been keeping tabs on the youngster's progress since then. He felt Andre would be a good addition to Benfica's ranks, albeit as a prospect.
Almeida's dream of returning to Portugal's elite finally came to fruition, as he signed a multi-year deal with Portuguese giant Benfica.
With Benfica's competitive squad, and with Almeida yet in his early developing stages, Benfica's technical staff felt it would be better if Almeida went on loan to get regular playing time and senior experience. He was loaned out to UD Leiria where he spent just half the season before being recalled during the winter transfer window by Jorge Jesus. The following season Almeida became a feature in Benfica's squad, stepping in for the inconsistent and subpar-performing Maxi Pereira, appearing in a total of 40 games while being Jesus' preferred choice in domestic and European competitions alike.
Despite ending the 12/13 season as Benfica's starter at right back, an end of season that included an appearance in Benfica's Europa League final against Chelsea, Almeida saw less of the pitch this past season, having only played a total of 25 games. Most of them were in the second half of the season - a far cry from the action he had seen the year before. But his consistent performances, and his contributions to Benfica especially in the final third of the season, earned him a spot among Paulo Bento's final 23 players.
Although not a regular in Portugal's youth setups, Almeida featured in Portugal's U21 team before making his senior debut in October of last year. Almeida started in a double World Cup qualifying fixture against Israel and Luxemburg where he logged in all 180 minutes.