Using his EURO 2016 blueprint, Fernando Santos approached the knockout tie against Chile in a pragmatic, risk-averse fashion. He stuck to his tried and tested 4-4-2 and asked his team to play a narrow defensive game.
Chile manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi, decided to roll out a 4-4-2 diamond, with Arturo Vidal as a box-to-box force in the number 10 role. The objective was to overpower Portugal in midfield and dominate the opposition with quick short passing and intelligent movement off-the-ball.
The game started off in exciting fashion, as both teams created excellent chances in the opening minutes of the game. Chile initiated, with a brilliant through ball to Vargas who botched a 1v1, before Ronaldo countered with an excellent low cross that André Silva failed to convert.
Shortly afterwards, the match began to settle into a more controlled tempo. This was partly down to Portugal’s defensive structure, which looked to block off spaces through the center in order to force things wide. This was coupled with a high press, which involved Ronaldo and André Silva blocking off passing lanes, with Adrien Silva stepping up to create vertical compactness. Depending on where Chile’s fullbacks moved, Bernardo Silva and Andre Gomes would either push higher up the pitch or stay in line with William Carvalho. This defensive shape caused Chile to be more cautious in the way they progressed the ball, lest they give up possession close to their goal. This led to more and more circulation at the back, as they took their time in finding an opening.
But as long as Chile were patient, openings did appear, for Portugal’s press was average at best. The more Chile shifted the ball from side to side, the more disorganized Portugal’s shape became. This was down to the fact that Santos’ players lacked the spacial awareness on the day to be able to recognize the new body positions they needed to take up and the angles they needed to cover. This was especially visible in Ronaldo and André Silva, who were charged with providing cover shadows to players that entered pockets of space behind them. While they focused on executing that duty when Chile initiated their build-up, they quickly lost track of the spaces they needed to block off as Pizzi’s men shifted the ball laterally.
Thus, one Chilean always managed to split the two strikers and receive the ball in a line-breaking position. That shouldn’t have been such a big deal had Portugal’s central midfielders consistently provided vertical compactness behind their two forwards, but they only did so on occasion. This may have been due to Chile’s diamond midfield, which essentially pitted four central midfielders against two, meaning that the likes of Adrien Silva was caught in two minds as to where to move in order to protect his team. Whatever the reason, Portugal’s press only served to slow Chile’s build-up. Pizzi’s men always eventually found a way to break through the center, before pumping the ball wide and entering the final third.
While Portugal were never nearly as patient as their opponents, they also found ways to enter the final third on a regular basis. One of their strategies was to exploit the lack of horizontal compactness afforded by the diamond; especially on the counter. When winning the ball back, the Selecção would look to quickly shift the ball to one flank through short passing combinations, before having the wide midfielder dip inside and switch play to an unguarded space on the far side of the field. Due to the different skillsets of Portugal’s players, this pattern of play mainly occurred when play flowed through Bernardo Silva. Possessing excellent close control and eagle-eye vision, Silva consistently took up good attacking positions, before beating his markers and delivering accurate passes into Ronaldo and his teammates on the opposite flank. While Silva’s counterpart on the left-wing, Andre Gomes, showed some nice touches and pieces of skills, he sorely lacked the decision making and passing accuracy necessary to exploit any deficiencies in Chile’s shape. This greatly limited Portugal’s offensive potency, but they still managed to attack Chile through more direct means.
As ancient as it sounds, Portugal’s biggest weapon (especially in the first half) were their goal kicks, which were overwhelmingly aimed at Ronaldo. Thanks to Cristiano’s incredible leaping ability, strength, body control, and heading skills, he won almost all of his aerial duels, allowing Portugal instant access to the final third. On many occasions, Ronaldo would receive the ball right after he flicked it on, enabling him to have a go at markers in 1v1 situations or cross the ball.
These opportunities were less frequent in the second half, as the tempo slowed even more and Chile looked to gain greater control over possession. As Alexis Sánchez began to get on the ball more and as Chile began to release more crosses into the box, Portugal’s bravery diminished, limiting them to counter-attacks that often ended with Andre Gomes skying shots over the bar. Santos sealed Portugal into their dull scheme in the final stages of the second half, when he subbed off André Silva for Nani and Bernardo Silva for Quaresma. This moved Portugal to a 4-5-1, where the only offensive intent was to cross the ball into the box, no matter if the delivery was on or not.
The game drudged into extra time in this unspectacular fashion and continued that way until the final minutes of the game. It seemed that both teams were extremely content to head to penalties, until Chile reminded us that a game was still on in a few rapid fire minutes. After getting what looked like a clear penalty on replay denied, they hit the bar twice in quick succession (though the player latching onto the rebounding Vidal shot might have been offside).
Thus, despite this late push, the match moved on to penalties, which Chile subsequently won. Claudio Bravo saved all of the three spot-kicks he faced, denying Ronaldo the chance to take one and sending his team to the final.
Portugal will play a third place game against the loser of the Germany-Mexico match, and it will be interesting to see if Ronaldo plays.
Ronaldo wasn’t terrible, but he didn’t do anything particularly amazing either. His best moment of the game came in the first couple of minutes, when he created a beautiful chance for André Silva that really should’ve been converted. While he failed to top that for the rest of the game, he was pretty solid playing as a target man in the first half. His ability in the air and first touch to bring long balls down were excellent and he was the main reason Portugal created anything from what are traditionally low percentage attacks. However, in the second 45 minute period, his passing was sloppier and his link-up play suffered as a result. Without his ability to help string things together in the final third, Ronaldo became more of a passenger, as he lacked the ability to threaten goal due to a complete lack of decent service. Thus, while it’s certainly safe to say that he could’ve done more to help Portugal progress, there was always going to be only so much he could do.
On the defensive end, Ronaldo was typically good at defending the near post at corners, but his pressing left a lot to be desired. This is a secondary concern for goal scorer and it wasn’t truly devastating to his team, but given the kind of defensive commitment we’ve seen from Cristiano in some of the big games for Real Madrid, one would expect him to show more awareness of the passing lanes and spaces around him.
Didn’t play due to suspension.
Bits & Pieces
The referee probably should’ve referred the late penalty call from Chile to VAR, as the replays showed that it was a clear penalty.
People are trying too hard to blame Ronaldo for three penalties that three separate players missed. It would have been another thing if the man himself had botched his spot-kick, but blaming him for the incompetence of others is absurd. Whether he should’ve gone first or not, that’s no excuse for the terrible penalties that Quaresma, Nani, and Moutinho delivered.
Should Ronaldo play in the third place match?
This poll is closed
Yes, he still gets a medal.
No, third place matches are meaningless.