Portugal were the undisputed favorites going into their World Cup Qualifier against lowly ranked Latvia, and they did not disappoint, smashing their opponents in an impressive 4-1 victory.
Santos accomplished this by implementing a 4-3-3 formation, which consisted of a midfield trio of Carvalho, Andre Gomes, and Joao Mario backing up a strike-force of Ronaldo, André Silva, and Nani.
Latvia responded by playing in a hyper-conservative 4-4-2, which transitioned into a 4-5-1 in defense. In order to break this low block down, Santos ordered his attackers to roam freely across the final third in an effort to stretch Latvia’s horizontal compactness and open up vertical spaces for Portugal’s central midfielders to exploit. To further accomplish this strategy, Portugal’s fullbacks, Raphael Guerreiro and Joao Cancelo, acted as auxiliary wingers that kept the Selecção’s width and discouraged Latvia from maintaining a narrow defensive shape.
In order to quickly exploit the gaps that opened up in the half spaces as a result of Santos’ tactics, Ronaldo often positioned himself in the hole to play one-twos with a supporting midfield runner (Joao Mario or Andre Gomes) or André Silva and Nani. This enabled Portugal to provide penetration through the middle instead of simply crossing the ball endlessly, and the strategy led indirectly to Portugal’s first goal.
A slick Ronaldo-Nani combination around the box drew a penalty that Ronaldo dispatched.
Portugal went into the break with this slim lead, but managed to give it up in the second half, as Latvia executed a decent counter-attack that caught Portugal off guard.
It was merely a case off poor defending letting the Selecção down (Jose Fonte failed to check his run to mark the receiver of the cross and Andre Gomes failed to mark the edge of the box, thus allowing Arturs Zjuzins to score) and they responded angrily 3 minutes later with a headed goal from William Carvalho (Ricardo Quaresma was the provider).
From then on, Portugal made no more mistakes, killing Latvia off clinically with a brilliant late volley from Ronaldo...
...and a headed goal from Bruno Alves.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Performance
Player Rating: 9/10
Ronaldo had a very complete game, burying Latvia with not only his clinical finishing, but his movement into the pockets and his combination play. Ronaldo also showed off his technical side, going at his markers with plenty of step-overs and fakes in addition to some neat chipped passes and long balls.
He even had the willingness to track back and win the ball after giving possession away cheaply, something that we rarely see Ronaldo do against minnows.
The only blemish on his night were his penalties, something that is becoming a legitimate problem for the Portuguese superstar.
4 - Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to score six of the 10 penalties he has taken in 2016 (club + - excluding shoot-outs). Strange. pic.twitter.com/MqAtY3gvGq— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 13, 2016
His first went in, but it was a poor effort that should’ve been saved by Andris Vanins. His second was struck with more conviction, but it slapped against the post before bouncing agonizingly off the back of the keeper and away from danger.
It is hard to understand why Ronaldo, previously the best penalty taker in the world, is struggling so much from the spot. It may be a question of a lack of practice, bad luck, or more probably something mental. Either way, he needs to solve this issue quickly, as he is Madrid’s #1 choice when taki spot kicks.
Cool Ronaldo Stats
Ronaldo has 12 goals in his last 11 appearances for Portugal.
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 68 international goals, more than any other player currently playing international football.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 13, 2016