Having blown away nearly all of their opponents in their World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) group, fans of the Portuguese national team were hoping for a dominant start to the Confederations Cup. However, head coach Fernando Santos had other ideas.
Deciding that it was a bad idea to start André Silva, the guy who scored a bajillion goals and dovetailed so well with Ronaldo in WCQ, Santos made the genius decision of playing Nani, a winger, as a striker up top. To make things worse, he benched the electric Bernardo Silva in favor of Andre Gomes, who would play out of position on the left-wing for a good part of the game.
With Portugal starting in a lineup they hadn’t really used since the EUROs, everything looked out of sync. The absence of André Silva showed immediately, as Nani failed to make the central movements that dragged defenders out of the way of Ronaldo, meaning Portugal’s greatest every player found it difficult to receive the ball in-between the lines. This was especially devastating since this is the only connection through the center that has ever existed in this Fernando Santos team. With Ronaldo unable to get in the game and no one else making build-up friendly movements, the Selecção’s back-line were forced into long balls. That wouldn’t have been all bad if the deliveries were accurate, but for some inexplicable reason, the passing out from the back was utterly abysmal.
However, credit must be given to El Tri for their pressing, which was generally well drilled. Portugal’s central midfielders, which was outnumbered by Mexico’s triangle midfield, were tightly marked and pressured every time they received the ball. This made it difficult for Pepe and Fonté to find any obvious passing outlets, giving Mexico total domination of possession in the first half.
Despite this, the underdogs failed to really create anything clear-cut. Portugal were typically compact in their two banks of four and consistent miscontrols and wayward passes often hindered Mexico’s offensive flow. Thus, they failed to capitalize on their dominance and were punished when they finally made a defensive mistake.
In the 35th minute, Ronaldo’s marker completely misjudged a long throw-in, allowing CR7 to burst free for 40 yards before meeting resistance in the box. After botching his step-over and nearly ruining the attack, Cristiano found Quaresma with a delightful pass that completely caught El Tri’s defense off guard. Needless to say, Ricardo kept his composure and punched the ball into the back of the net.
But the Selecção’s joy was short lived, as they let Mexico into the game 7 minutes later with some abominable defending of their own.
A simple cross into the Portuguese box turned into a dangerous one, when Raphael Guerreiro completely lost his mind, allowing Carlos Vela to freely assist the waiting Chicharito, who was poorly marked by the ball-watching Pepe.
The second half followed much the same pattern as the first, until Fernando Santos made some substitutions, bringing on Adrien Silva for Joao Moutinho and Gelson Martins on for Luis Nani in the 58th minute. This changed Portugal’s shape to a 4-5-1, with Gelson going wide and Silva and Gomes becoming interiors. The presence of three central midfielders allowed Santos’ midfield to better match up against Mexico’s, giving Portugal more passing connections and thus more of the ball. But the passing accuracy and decision making in the final third continued to be frustratingly incompetent, keeping the match at 1-1 until Mexico made another defensive mistake late in the game.
A Quaresma cross was poorly dealt with, allowing right back Cédric to score a deflected shot and give his team the lead.
But if you thought Portugal were going to see out the lead with four minutes left to play, you were wrong. Mexico struck from a set-piece in the 90th minute, with Jose Fonté unable to stop Héctor Moreno, even though the Portuguese defender was desperately clawing at the goal face.
The game finished at 2-2, giving both each teams a point as a reward for two mediocre performances.
There’s only so much you can do when you’re given no service and Ronaldo did as much as any man could. His touches were sharp, his passing was purposeful, he almost scored with a brilliant volley after his free-kick rebounded off the wall, and he created the opening goal with a brilliant assist. Ronaldo is in form and he can do a lot of good for Portugal this tournament - his team just need to pass him the ball.
Pepe was bad. His passing was inaccurate and he let Chicharito score a free header for Mexico’s first equalizing goal. He’ll need to be much better if Portugal are going to win the Confederations Cup, especially if Jose Fonté is going to be this poor of a defensive partner.
Bits & Pieces
All goals are being reviewed by VAR and it immediately paid off. In the 20th minute, Portugal put the ball in the back of the net when their players were offside and it was rightly discounted.
Fernando Santos could rightly flame his players for this result, but his team selection and uninspired offensive tactics must shoulder some of the blame. There is absolutely no reason to be benching André Silva (who nearly scored when he came on in the 82nd minute) and Bernardo Silva, who are Portugal’s two best players barring Ronaldo. If he continues this tomfoolery, expect the Selecção to be knocked out soon.
Do Bernardo Silva and André Silva deserve to start?
This poll is closed
No, only Bernardo Silva deserves to start
No, only André Silva deserves to start