Mexico 0-1 Portugal
A last minute goal from Bruno Alves was the only thing that separated Mexico and Portugal, as the two teams faced off in Foxborough, Massachusetts for a pre-World Cup friendly match. Indeed, the two teams were very evenly matched and while each team had chances to break the deadlock, it was a clever set piece and a spectacular header that pushed Portugal ahead of the Mexicans. This was Mexico’s last friendly before departing for Brazil, while Portugal will face Ireland next Tuesday before heading to South America.
The Greece game last week was a good challenge because the team’s defense is of similar strength to that of Germany, who Portugal will face in the group stage. While the Greeks were deft at defense, their attacking prowess was not nearly as pronounced. Consequently, the Portuguese team got a good test in attacking, but not nearly as much so in defending. Mexico was different. Known as being competent at both attack and defense, the Mexicans posed a much more complete challenge for the Portuguese. As a result, the game was a very close one, and with a little bit of luck, the Mexicans could have easily gotten a result against what was a very flat Portuguese side.
The Portuguese were without Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, and Pepe due to injury, which meant that the team that was named by Paulo Bento was surely not the one we will see against Germany on the 16th. While Bento did experiment, he only did so with his team selection-not the formation. In the Seleccao’s previous game against Greece, Bento started the team in a 4-4-2 formation-one that Portugal is not accustomed to. This time out, Portugal started in their familiar 4-3-3, which is much more suited to Portugal’s counter-attacking style of play. Eduardo was started in goal in place of Rui Patricio. This was likely not a signal that Portugal’s no.1 will change, but likely simply to give Eduardo some game time to try to determine if he is suited for the no.2 role. The backline was a familiar one, with regulars Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao on the wings. Bruno Alves and Neto started in the middle of defense, with the latter temporarily taking the place of the injured Pepe. In midfield were Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Andre Almeida. Almeida likely took the spot of Raul Meireles, who is out injured. Almeida’s inclusion in the starting lineup comes as a surprise, as his primary position in the national team of late has been at left-back. It seems that Paulo Bento had some more experimenting to get out of his system, and used this friendly match to determine the extent of Andre Almeida’s versatility. On the wings were Nani and Vieirinha, the latter of which replacing Ronaldo. Up top was Eder, which may be a signal that Bento is ready to replace Helder Postiga in the striker position with the Braga forward.
The beginning of the match was a fairly even affair, with both teams failing to create any clear-cut chances. The first chance of note came in the 21st minute, when Eder’s diagonal run met Fabio Coentrao’s pass. The big man managed to hold off the Mexican defender who was marking him, but only saw his left-footed shot palmed away by the Mexican goalkeeper. From that point forward, it was primarily Mexico who controlled proceedings, with winger Andres Guardado reeking havoc in particular. Despite a spell of dominance, the Mexicans failed to capitalize, leaving both teams square at the interval. The second half was more of the same. Portugal showed flashes of competence and Mexico showed more will to win. Some solid saves from Eduardo and profligacy in front of goal for Mexico meant that the two teams were still tied 0-0 going into the final minute of stoppage time. Marco Fabian was adjudged to have fouled Helder Postiga, and the Portuguese were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Joao Moutinho stepped up, and swung in a perfectly weighted ball, which met the head perfectly of the on-rushing (and unmarked) Bruno Alves. His header thundered into the net, and was immediately drowned out by the Portuguese fans, who went mental. Sure. The Portuguese probably didn’t deserve to win…but there’s nothing better than a last-minute goal.
There are many questions surrounding the Seleccao right now. Many teams schedule friendlies to help the team gel and to answer questions about the team before a major tournament. The purpose is to answer questions. Not to raise more questions. While Portugal did not play spectacularly by any estimation, their performance was markedly half-hearted. At times, they were blatantly outplayed by a Mexican team who was surprisingly well-organized. Currently, Portugal is ranked 4th in the FIFA World Rankings, while Mexico is farther down the list at 20th. Though the FIFA rankings have their inaccuracies, they are still a relatively good gauge as to the skill of teams. Portugal should have recorded a much more comfortable result over Mexico. There are other factors that come in to play also. Players are not keen on getting injured before the World Cup, and with recent news of injuries to stars such as Germany’s Marco Reus and Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo, players are especially on alert. So, caution could have been a part of Portugal’s play last night, but as the game wore on, caution looked to play less of a role as players lunged into tackles. Portugal simply looked outplayed, which is disconcerting.
How are teams to gel if they are missing key players. A starting eleven needs to be established so that those 11 players can get experience playing with each other; experience that helps them learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses. With Ronaldo, Meireles, and Pepe all out of the side for Portugal’s first two friendly games (Greece and last night against Mexico), this Portuguese team is at a huge disadvantage. Paulo Bento is a great coach, which he showed at Euro 2012, but he needs to have a healthy team to work with. Ronaldo and Raul Meireles are only just getting back to full fitness, and will (optimistically) only participate in one friendly match before the World Cup starts and Portugal has to face the second best team in the world, Germany. Bento needs to pull out all the stops against Ireland on Tuesday if the team has any hope of preparing for Germany.
Eduardo, Joao Pereira(Ruben Amorim), Neto, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Rafa), Andre Almeida, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Nani, Vieirinha(Varela), Eder(Helder Postiga)