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Portugal 2 - 1 Egypt: Cristiano Ronaldo Scores A Brace To Save Portugal At The Death

An abysmal Portugal snatch a victory in injury time.

Real Madrid v Girona - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Fernando Santos rolled out his classic 4-4-2 with Ronaldo and André Silva up top. Despite the reported lineups showing Bernardo Silva on the left and João Mário on the right, it was the reverse, with the both players situated so that they could cut in-field.

Egypt also went with a lineup that defied their reported shape. Instead of lining up in a 4-4-2, they went with a 4-3-3, with Salah given a free role.

Portugal’s Tactics

As usual, Fernando Santos’ tactics looked slightly confused and stale. In possession, João Mário abandoned the left-wing and drifted into the center, forcing Ronaldo to compensate by moving out wide. Thus, Portugal’s build-up differed slightly depending on the flank they chose to access. If Neves or Moutinho chose to shift the ball to the right, Bernardo Silva and Cédric would attempt to engage in rudimentary passing combinations to advance down the flank. If the ball moved to the left, Ronaldo would try to combine with Guerreiro and João Mário (if Mário felt like moving into the left half space).

But thanks to Egypt’s resilient organization and Portugal’s awkward and inconsistent spacing, the latter side found it difficult to create the necessary connections to threaten. Thus, much of Portugal’s possession play involved side-to-side movements, backwards passes to their center backs, and pointless crosses. As the game progressed, Portugal began to loft speculative long balls down the right channel into André Silva, which only bore fruit on one occasion.

When Portugal lost the ball, they tended to engage in a basic counterpress that often succeeded in forcing Egypt to lose the ball. If Egypt successfully retained possession and began to build from the back, Portugal formed into a confused 4-2-4 high press. There seemed to be no communication as to who was the pressing trigger, how intense the press was going to be, and who was cover shadowing who. Thankfully for the Selecção, they were not punished for this disorganization thanks to Egypt’s general lack of composure on the ball and their desire to play the ball long.

Egypt’s Tactics

Egypt’s coach, Héctor Cúper, marshaled his men into a 4-3-3 medium-high block that sat in a narrow and horizontally compact fashion.

Egypt’s medium-high block.

When Portugal inevitably tried to build through the flanks, the entire midfield line shifted to block off access to the half spaces. The front line also shifted to take out Rúben Neves, trap play on the wing, and prevent a switch of play through quick, short ground passes.

If Egypt were defending a goal kick, their front three would step up to create a 3v3 against Bruno Alves, Rolando, and Neves and would shift their orientation to trap play on the wing once the ball moved to the fullbacks.

This strategy proved to be extremely successful in shutting down the stagnant Portuguese offense, which lacked the swiftness in their passing and the adequate offensive positioning to take advantage of the space always available on the far side. However, Egypt were much less successful when they had the ball. They lacked a sharpness and accuracy in their midfield play that made it difficult for them to build attacks and they often wasted their possessions with poorly aimed long balls. When coupled with their lack of counterpressing, this left them open to dangerous counter-attacks that Portugal were unable to take advantage of due to a lack of incisiveness, pace, and support.

Nevertheless, Egypt managed to score in the 56th minute, when a botched Cédric clearance allowed Mohamed Salah to brilliantly finish off a cut-back.

This caused Portugal to lose their composure, creating a level of sloppiness that allowed Egypt to counter with greater frequency. But, at the end of the day, they were forced to be content with just the one goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Performance

Rating: 8/10

While Ronaldo was one of Portugal’s better performers, he suffered from Santos’ poor offensive tactics and lack of service. Primarily positioned out on the left, he connected well with Guerreiro with some classy flicks and occasionally ran at Egypt’s defenders with a couple step-overs. In the 26th minute, he received his first chance of the game in the form of an indirect free-kick just inside the box. While he struck it well, the defensive wall proved to be too packed and his shot was blocked. This general theme continued in the 2nd half, with Ronaldo looking sharp in his link-up and movement, but being unable to truly make an impact.

That all changed once injury time began. Portugal finally upped their offensive pressure and began wildly swinging in cross after cross. After every clearance, Egypt’s defensive line was forced to step up, inherently creating some disorganization that a player of Ronaldo’s quality could take advantage of. Thus, in the 92nd minute, as Egypt were recovering from a barrage of earlier crosses, Ronaldo danced into the box and nodded home a Ricardo Quaresma cross.

Only two minutes later, Cristiano latched onto a free-kick and put the game to bed.

While Ronaldo’s unbelievable heroics are a certain cause for celebration, they should not hide the blatant tactical issues that have been a consistent problem under Fernando Santos.

Match Statistics

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