Match Report & Analysis
Portugal triumphed over Hungary 1-0 in a relatively comfortable World Cup Qualifying match. A red card in the 30th minute forced the home side into a shell, allowing the Selecção to dominate possession and control the tempo of the game.
Portugal lined up in their classic 4-4-2, with Ronaldo taking up his typical position as a left forward. However, unlike other matches, Fernando Santos’ formation and tactics were far less rigid. This was most apparent in the freedom afforded to Portugal’s wide midfielders: João Mário and Gelson Martins.
Usually, they’re restricted to the wings and are asked to primarily combine with their fullbacks to create overlaps and provide crosses. This previously left only two men, who always chose to sit deep and circulate the ball behind the opposition’s midfield block, to occupy the center of the pitch. Due to their being no other midfielder to step in-between the lines and progress play vertically, the European Champions’ possession play was often predictable and easy to contain. Ronaldo and André Silva would often drop deeper to solve this predicament, but it left a lack of offensive presence up front.
As mentioned before, Santos tackled this problem by asking his wingers to move narrower and into the half spaces in the 1st possession phase. This provided his side with much needed penetration, while his fullbacks pushed up wide and high to provide his side with width. The resulting formation in this stage looked something like a 2-2-4-2.
As is the nature of football, the formation wasn’t quite as symmetrical as it sounds. The structure was more centrally oriented on the left-wing, as João Mário was more comfortable drifting inwards and receiving the ball than classic winger Gelson Martins.
As the ball progressed past the defensive and middle thirds and into the final third, Portugal’s offense became incredibly fluid. If Mário still stayed centrally, Moutinho would drift wide to combine with the left back and deliver crosses into the box. While Gelson mostly swung to the right-wing in this stage of possession, it was not uncommon to see him swap positions with Mário. To add to the confusion that Hungary likely experienced, Ronaldo moved as and where he pleased. Towards the beginning of the game, this saw him drift out to the left flank, but as time progressed, he positioned himself in the right half space and began to make runs into the box.
The key to understanding Portugal’s plan of attack once near Hungary’s box, was noticing that there were always plenty of players positioned centrally to circulate the ball from flank to flank no matter who moved wide. Someone (and often many someone’s) would always be positioned near zone 14 to keep defenders occupied and aid effective penetration. This became a difficult strategy to execute once Hungary went a man down, so J. Mário and Gelson mixed things up by running into the box and distracting defenders from the ever-present threats in Ronaldo and André Silva.
Portugal’s main issue was their poor final ball, which was partly down to Hungary’s more than adequate marking. Additionally, some of the decision making from Santos’ men wasn’t ideal, as players preferred to take shots from distance instead of showing more patience (Portugal managed a whopping 15 shots from outside the box).
But the pressure applied against 10 men proved to be enough, as the deadlock was finally broken in the 48th minute, when Ronaldo latched onto a Moutinho pass before bouncing a cross off André Silva and into the net. From then on, the Selecção slowed the tempo down and dominated the game, but some shifty defending from the EURO 2016 Champions allowed Hungary a couple of half chances to get one back.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Performance
The best player in the world started the match brightly, as his hunger and desire for game-time clearly propelled him to be more active in the game. Before the match had seemingly started, he fired a scorcher from distance and maneuvered a header inches past the post. As Hungary began to bunker down (especially after losing a man to a red card), Ronaldo began drifting out to the left to combine with his teammates and play through balls to João Mario and Eliseu/Coentrão.
To keep things varied, he shifted over to the right soon after, looking to play the same deep-lying forward role as before. But his influence waned later in the 1st half, as his touches began to desert him and Hungary began to double and even triple-mark him.
Clearly looking to make more of an impact in the second half, Ronaldo came out of the tunnel even more motivated than before. Within literal minutes, he ran onto Moutinho’s pass on the left-hand side of the box, before delivering a superb cross for André Silva to finish.
What was especially impressive was how Cristiano managed to create so much power on his delivery, considering he had to half chip it in order to send it over the flying legs of a Hungary defender.
Following that decisive moment, Ronaldo began to position himself in the box periodically, in order to give himself the opportunity to finish off a clear-cut chance. In But Portugal’s final ball never materialized and he ended the game scoreless.
In all, it wasn’t a perfect performance from CR7, but he was promisingly influential and it was his impetus and on-the-ball quality that created the winner for Portugal. He can’t get back in a Madrid jersey fast enough.
(All statistics taken from sofascore)