Portugal 5-1 Ireland
Portugal finished their pre-World Cup tour of America in possibly the best fashion with a 5-1 demolition of Ireland at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Goals from Hugo Almeida (2), Fabio Coentrao, Vieirinha, and an Irish own goal contributed to the win. The wide winning margin was exactly what many speculated the team needed, after tepid performances against Greece and Mexico. The game saw Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, and Pepe all return to fitness after being out injured recently. And indeed our captain Ronaldo looked healthy and dangerous; exactly the two qualities the team needs from him most next week when Portugal kick off their World Cup campaign against Germany.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento returned to his favored 4-3-3 formation. Returning to his no.1 position in goal was Rui Patricio. In front of him were Ruben Amorim (who is adept at playing at right-back) and Fabio Coentrao on the wings. In the middle of defense was Neto and Ricardo Costa, who were presumably fill-ins for Bruno Alves and Pepe. In midfield, Bento chose William Carvalho, Raul Meireles, and Joao Moutinho, who will most likely be the starting trio that represent Portugal’s midfield next week. On the wings were a fit-again Ronaldo and Varela. They were joined up top by Hugo Almeida. Regulars Bruno Alves and Joao Pereira were given a rest for the match, but all signs are pointing toward them starting in the Seleccao’s first match against Germany next week.
The game started off brightly for the Portuguese. Within the first few minutes, the team was already 1-0 up. Great defensive work from Ruben Amorim released Varela on the right wing. The winger sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by the head of Hugo Almeida. After getting somewhat of a cushion in the form of that goal, Portugal seemed largely content with Ireland getting a hold on proceedings. But as is so common, Portugal attack against the run of play. Though Ireland was threatening, Portugal had a very good chance to double their advantage on the 13 minute mark. Some good work from Ronaldo opened room for a shot, which was parried by the Ireland goalkeeper. The rebound fell to Varela, who had the presence of mind to pick out the onrushing Raul Meireles. The midfielder’s fierce shot was well-saved, and the ball went behind for a corner kick. From the resulting kick, Hugo Almeida came within inches of doubling Portugal’s lead. From that point forward, it was largely one-way traffic. Ronaldo hit the post with another of his wonderful trademark free kicks minutes later, and it was the Real Madrid man who played a bit part in the second goal. A run forward from Coentrao was picked out by a wonderful back-heel pass from Ronaldo. The left-back crossed, and the ball took a fortunate deflection off Ireland defender Richard Keogh and looped into the back of the net. Portugal continued to press, and were rewarded once again fifteen minutes later. Varela sent in a peach of a cross, which was met by the head of Ronaldo. The star man’s header was pushed away by the Irish goalkeeper, but Hugo Almeida was there to apply the finishing touch. It was the team’s third, and Almeida’s second of the night. That proved to be the last clear-cut chance of the half. Both teams went into the locker room with Portugal leading convincingly 3-0.
As could be expected, Ireland caused Portugal headaches early in the second half. And the Irish were rewarded for their hard work just 6 minutes after the restart. A well-worked set piece set winger James McClean free on the right. A simple cut-in allowed him the space to fire home past Rui Patricio. Later in the second-half, as is typical in international friendlies, there was a mass substitution. Among the players to leave the field was Ronaldo, who had performed admirably though not fully fit. Nani replaced the Real Madrid forward and was at the heart of the rest of Portugal’s forays forward. Ireland continued to threaten, and seemed determined to improve upon the momentum from their goal. Portugal managed to hold them off, and counter struck in the 77th minute. A superb cross-field pass from Joao Moutinho was taken perfectly in stride by Nani, who was motoring down the left wing. The winger took his time, and picked out the run of Vieirinha perfectly. The Wolfsburg man’s header was well saved, but he made no mistake with the rebound, shooting past the Ireland goalkeeper to record his first goal for Portugal, and stretch the scoreline to an impressive 4-1. And it was Nani at the heart of Portugal’s final goal just a few minutes later. The winger picked up the ball on the left wing once again, and instead of pressing forward, stalled a bit, and picked out the on-rushing Fabio Coentrao. The Real Madrid defender poked the ball home impressively with his right toe, and just like that, Portugal were up 5-1. And soon after, Nani was once again at the heart of another Portuguese move, and possibly one of the most exciting of which all night. The winger picked up the ball on his favored left side, and made a mazing run, playing one-two pass after one-two pass with his teammates before laying the ball off to Joao Moutinho. Moutinho dinked through a wonderful split ball to Vieirinha, whose square pass was back-heeled into the net by Nani. Alas, the wonderful move was correctly adjudged to be offside, but the point was clear. Portugal can be a mesmerizingly wonderful team.
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Much of the talk lately surrounding Portugal has been over the fitness of star man Cristiano Ronaldo. The buzz is warranted. Ronaldo won World Player of the Year for 2013, and is fresh off winning the Champions League with Real Madrid. His performances for Portugal under Paulo Bento have been nothing short of spectacular, recently surpassing Pauleta as Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He is undoubtedly an important piece to the puzzle. But he is not the puzzle. Yes, he is the best player in the world. Yes he has the ability to change games; to improve the quality of play; to make a difference. But pundits under-emphasize the importance of the team around him. Portugal, as a collective, is one of the most complete sides in the world currently. The team that Portugal will likely field against Germany is almost identical to the one that was named when we faced Germany at Euro 2012. The team has played together for years now, and is well-versed in the formation and tactics that Paulo Bento uses. But Portugal is not stagnant. The team has a good mix of youth and experience. Players such as Rafa and William Carvalho are wild-cards. Having not been in the international spotlight for their talent can be an asset for Portugal. Other teams won’t exactly know how to handle Rafa at full speed or William Carvalho at full-stretch. I think for people to label Portugal as a one-trick pony, and the trick to be Ronaldo, is a mistake. There is much more to a team than one man. This game highlighted this point well. Ronaldo was involved directly in two of the goals (the second and third), but Varela carved out a chance for the first goal. Nani made the chances for the other two goals. A no-Ronaldo Portugal is still capable of playing beautiful, flowing football. Ronaldo is important, but just as important are the collective around him.
Rui Patricio, Ruben Amorim(Miguel Veloso), Neto(Pepe), Ricardo Costa, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho, Raul Meireles(Andre Almeida), Ronaldo(Nani), Varela(Vieirinha), Hugo Almeida(Helder Postiga)