Portugal dominated Hungary in a rematch of their EURO 2016 encounter. Fernando Santos deployed his men in the same formation and system he used in their last meet-up; a 4-4-2 with Ronaldo as the left forward. This time however, rising star André Silva was paired up top with Cristiano, giving the Madrid legend his first proper strike partner in years (and first proper striker since Pauleta).
Portugal and Ronaldo clearly benefitted from this as both players dovetailed beautifully and scored all of their team’s goals. Perhaps just as importantly, Ronaldo and Silva played crucial roles in build-up, as they alternated their deep movements to help Portugal build through the halfspaces. This was key, due to Portugal’s asymmetric shape in center midfield. William Carvalho would drop in between Pepe and Fonté to dictate play and control the tempo of the game. This left Andre Gomes as the only other natural option to receive the ball in central positions, meaning that one of Portugal’s forwards constantly had to drop.
While this often meant that play went wide and that Portugal’s possession play wasn’t the most imaginative, Silva and, especially, Ronaldo’s willingness to spark quick one-two plays in the middle of the pitch varied things up often enough.
With Hungary sitting in a deep block in a 5-4-1 formation and applying little pressure on Carvalho, Portugal were free to dominate possession and probe and probe until they created chances.
When the probing failed, the European Champions attempted to win the ball back with a pretty poorly structured press, but Hungary was unable to take advantage due to their lack of quality individuals.
Thus, Portugal comfortably buried their opponents in a three-goal performance that will mostly please Fernando Santos.
Ronaldo continued his blistering form for Portugal with a stunning brace and a dazzling all-round performance against Hungary. Cristiano thrived in his left forward position, as he had the freedom to move from flank to flank and away from his position in the left halfspace whenever he felt like doing so.
This enabled him to create attacking overloads on the flank and allowed him to create one-two passing combos through the middle. More importantly, he dropped very deep to receive the ball and help Portugal progress up the pitch. Once in the final third, he would often choose to cheque his runs into the box in favor of playing through balls to teammates making runs into the channel.
This all-round role was enhanced by Ronaldo’s sharp play with the ball at his feet. He was rarely dispossessed and often cleverly evaded his markers with sharp twists, turns, and chops, to create space for himself to face goal, shoot, or pass the ball.
In many ways, Ronaldo played the role of shadow striker rather than that of a typical forward. He was the hub of Portugal’s attack from a deeper position and was willing to cut inside and take-on players to release shots from range. It was very similar to the type of Ronaldo we’ve seen in days long gone.
This resulted in some serious end-product for both him and Portugal.
In the 32nd minute, Ronaldo demonstrated his good close control and clever offensive positioning, by receiving the ball at the edge of the final third, before spinning past his marker and laying a pass off to Raphael Guerreiro. Due to Ronaldo attracting the attention of the entire Hungary defense, Guerreiro was free to punch in a cross for André Silva to finish from close range.
Andre Silva goal#Portugal 1-0 pic.twitter.com/gO4ouhPLAQ— FCPGlobal (@FCP_Tube) March 25, 2017
Feeling the need to reciprocate only four minutes later, André Silva brilliantly flicked a long pass into Ronaldo, who took a touch before pummeling a low drive into the net from the edge of the box.
RONALDO! That's already @Cristiano's 8th goal in 4 games this #WCQ cycle. https://t.co/vImpr9VRE2— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 25, 2017
Looking to outdo his earlier golazo, Ronaldo sealed things up with a gorgeous free kick in the 65th minute.
History for Ronaldo! @Cristiano becomes just the 3rd European with 70 int'l goals (Ferenc Puskás & Miro Klose). #WCQ https://t.co/9ggCEIPi3d— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 25, 2017
It capped off a near perfect night for Ronaldo, allowing him to reach another international milestone, whilst taking his tally with Portugal in 2016/17 to 9 goals in only 4 games.
Due to Hungary’s pitiful offensive performance, Pepe had little to do the entire game. On the few occasions that Hungary did surge forward, Pepe had little trouble in snuffing things out.
PEPEEEEEEE pic.twitter.com/s09I0RdFnl— Mayada (@SaveItLikeNavas) March 25, 2017
In possession he simply played short passes to Carvalho, meaning it was a quiet but solid night for the Real Madrid veteran.