Knowing that Portugal needed a big win against New Zealand to top their group, Fernando Santos was assured enough of victory to put out his weakest eleven of the tournament so far.
Eliseu stepped in for the injured Raphael Guerreiro, while Semedo rotated in at right back for Cédric, and Moutinho and Danilo anchored the midfield. Santos’ team selection turned out to be an adroit piece of decision making, as his side flattened New Zealand 4-0, while allowing some of his better players to get some rest.
But it didn’t look like that would be the case in the opening 10 minutes, as the underdogs surprised Portugal with some quality football. New Zealand held a high line, looked to patiently circulate the ball, and tried to find target-man Chris Wood with some well aimed crosses. The Reds finally got their foot in the game with a long spell of dominance immediately following New Zealand’s opening hold of possession, but the European champions did absolutely nothing with the ball. Progression of play was entirely lateral and movement was slow and lethargic.
A Ronaldo through ball that nearly found André Silva on the counter finally seemed to kick some life into Portugal, as they began to properly threaten New Zealand’s goal immediately after the play. This threat manifested itself in a barrage of crosses and set-pieces, which Ronaldo and co. began to feed off of. The man himself managed to put a header on target, before smashing a brilliant Quaresma cross onto the bar. Danilo also got a chance to score from a set-piece, but his header was deflected wide.
The breakthrough finally came from a corner in the 33rd minute, when Danilo was brought down in the box by two players and Portugal was gifted a penalty. You can guess what happened next.
The second goal came only 4 minutes later, when the delightful Quaresma found Eliseu on the overlap with a gorgeous chip. With plenty of space to run into, the left back gleefully sprinted to the touchline, before cutting his cross back for Bernardo Silva to finish.
The half ended with the scoreline at 2-0 and Portugal firmly in the driver’s seat. With New Zealand having nothing to play for but pride, as they were already eliminated, they came out of the tunnel determined to give their fans something to cheer about. This resulted in a more offensive mindset that gave the game an end-to-end feel.
While the Kiwis didn’t score, they certainly got their chances, and were rather unlucky not to score. Some spectacular saves and blocks near the goal line kept the men from Oceania off the scoreboard, while the men from Iberia took advantage of the space New Zealand were leaving behind. Quaresma, in particular, asserted himself on the counter, using his trickery to beat his markers and serve up superb crosses for his teammates to feed off of.
He was instrumental in setting up Portugal’s third goal, as he picked the pocket of a New Zealand player before releasing André Silva onto goal.
This pretty much ended the game then and there, but Nani wrapped things up in the 91st minute just to be safe.
Ronaldo was once again starved of the ball, thanks to Portugal’s asinine insistence on unnecessarily clearing the ball and whacking speculative long passes up the field. Despite this, Portugal’s captain made the most of the service he received in the box, managing to put a header on target and another on the bar. When asked to step up and open the scoring from the spot, Cristiano duly obliged, giving him his second winning goal of the tournament. When creating for his teammates, Ronaldo’s passes always seemed to be inches from coming off, but his intent demonstrated good vision and an eye for his teammates’ movements.
He was subbed off in the 67th minute for Nani, giving Ronaldo some decent rest before the upcoming semifinal match.
After what was a solid performance vs. Russia, Pepe reverted back to the poor form he showed in Portugal’s first Confederations Cup match. He cruised through the first half, having hardly been tested, but lost it in the second period of play. In the 56th minute, he executed a mind-numbingly stupid challenge that saw him receive a yellow card, suspending him for his team’s semifinal game.
He also struggled with New Zealand’s renewed verve and didn’t do his best to deal with crosses and attacks into the box. This hasn’t been a great tournament for the Real Madrid veteran so far.
Bits & Pieces
Despite the big win, Portugal drew some big negatives from the match. Bernardo Silva left the field injured after the first half, due to an injury he picked up when scoring his goal. After striking the ball he landed awkwardly on his marker’s foot, causing him to roll his ankle badly. It’s unsure whether he’ll be ready for the semis, but if it’s a longer-term injury, Portugal will certainly be worse off without him. When coupled with Raphael Guerreiro’s injury and Pepe’s suspension, Portugal are without three key players for what will be their biggest match and test of the Confederations Cup so far. That should be worrying for fans of the Selecção.
Portugal need to establish some type of build-up strategy from the back. If they’re going to lump the ball long, Ronaldo and André Silva need to be running close to each other and off the shoulder of the defender, while the near-side winger pushes high up the pitch to support them. If they want to play it short, Portugal’s central midfielders need to do a better job of showing as an outlet, while the fullbacks push up high and the wide midfielders sit narrow in the half spaces. Right now, there seems to be no real plan, with the Selecção content to lump the ball randomly across the pitch in the hope that something happens. You’d think Germany or Chile would punish that type of play if given the chance.