It took a very late goal from Cristiano Ronaldo to do it, but, Fernando Santos’ new-look Portuguese National Team picked up their first victory and first three points of Euro 2016 qualifying in Copenhagen on Tuesday, defeating Denmark 1-0.
To say it was an entertaining match would be quite the stretch as both teams lacked creativity in the final third, but, the game had its moments, and, both squads dictated play at different times.
The focus on caution was evident from Portugal prior to kick-off as Santos made two changes to the starting XI which started Saturday’s friendly against France: William and Ricardo Carvalho in for Bruno Alves and Andre Gomes. Chatter before the match suggested that Santos might opt for a change in formation to cope with the dour display by Eliseu and Cedric against the French – such as implementing the 3-5-2 formation the Netherlands used in Brazil for the World Cup – but, in the end, he didn’t stray too far away from tradition: Four at the back, three in the middle, and a mobile three up front.
Santos, who will patrol the touchline until the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules on his appeal, will no doubt be pleased with the defensive display his squad put in against the Danes. It was much improved. The offensive display in this match did, however, leave much to be desired.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Portuguese boys in white owned the first quarter played at the Kobenhavn Stadium. Outside of a penalty shout from the Danes in the 17th minute, when a stumbling Eliseu got away with using his arm to deflect a cross intended for Nicklas Bendtner to Rui Patricio, Denmark, who had controlled possession, had absolutely no opportunities to speak of. All the chances fell to Portugal, but, in a script all too familiar to supporters of the Selecao, they could not make the most of them.
The first such chance fell to Ronaldo at 7’, who, after being fed by Danny from the right touchline, darted into the box only to have his rocket of a shot stopped by Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Schmeichel also did well to smother the ball afterwards, as Danny continued his run in looking for a rebound.
Five minutes later and it was Danny who had his shot stopped as Portugal began to look more and more menacing on the night, this time through clever link-up play between the Zenit man, Ronaldo, and Joao Moutinho.
In the 17th minute, Ronaldo again looked lively finding the ball and finding space for a long shot from the right, this time firing wide of the goal to the left on a tight angle.
And finally, in was what to be the best Portuguese chance of the half, Ronaldo turned provider at 26’, showing his speed by rounding Daniel Agger, only to have his rocket of a cross headed over by a diving Nani in the box. Tiago wasn’t too far behind Nani further to his left, and, there is a debate to be had on whom exactly that cross was meant for, but, either way, despite having looked the far better side up to that point, Portugal had failed to capitalize.
Danes Look Great:
Predictably, and much like Portugal against France over the weekend, Denmark found their footing. And, amazingly, it was the Danes who claimed the best chance of the half.
Seemingly encouraged by the Selecao’s failure to convert, Denmark’s play picked up considerably following the Nani chance, and, their best chance fell to Michael Krohn-Dehli.
In the 34th minute, Krohn-Dehli found himself sauntering to the left of the box, supporting a Christian Eriksen run that caused the Portuguese problems. Following a pass from Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli made a bit of space for himself and fired a well-placed right-footed shot towards the far corner. Fortunately for A Selecao das Quinas, Patricio was beaten, but not the post.
Krohn-Dehli found himself with another chance six minutes later, this time being fed by Lars Jacobsen, but only managed to skirt a shot well wide. And, on 43 minutes, it was the RB Jacobsen again playing creator, this time sending a ball towards Lasse Vibe, only for him to deflect it safely into the arms of Patricio.
In what was a half with little in terms of quality chances, both teams could’ve easily argued that they should’ve been ahead. But the score remained 0-0.
Like Father, Like Son:
It wouldn’t take long for a quality chance to find its way to Ronaldo however as six minutes into the second half, Schmeichel amused the world with a Peter-like save off the Portuguese captain.
Moutinho managed to spring Danny forward with a pass towards the edge of the box at a moment when the Danes completely turned off and he, in turn, sent Ronaldo towards goal alone with a reverse pass to his left. Given the quality of Ronaldo, it almost seemed a sure thing that Portugal would finally find the breakthrough they needed, but Schmeichel came up huge, flying off the line much like his father to deflect the shot out off his left leg.
Frustratingly for Santos and the Portuguese, it appeared as though it was not to be Ronaldo’s night.
The Difference Makers:
From that point on, the match lost most, if not all, of its luster. A head injury to Denmark LB Nicolai Boilesen in the 56th minute following a poorly-aimed clearance by Agger slowed the tempo down even further, and as the minutes disappeared from the clock, so too did the patience of the players on the pitch. But, those extra few minutes of added time would prove to be vital to the outcome of the encounter.
Following another Danish chance in the 72nd minute by Krohn-Dehli – who fired wide from 20 yards out after being set up by Pierre Hojbjerg – and the introductions of Eder, Joao Mario, and Ricardo Quaresma respectively, Portugal finally found the moment of magic they needed. And, it unsurprisingly came from Ronaldo himself.
Finding himself in the box in the 5th and final minute of added time, Ronaldo timed his leap perfectly to meet a sublime Quaresma cross from the right and head it into the corner of Schmeichel’s net for the only goal of the match, and his 51st total goal for the Selecao. It was truly a moment of inspiration in a match that, at times, lacked any, and proved to be the difference in a fairly even contest.
Now that Santos has his first victory as Portugal manager under his belt, and the team has their first points of qualifying, all those involved should have an easier time adapting moving forward. A Selecao das Quinas are right back in the thick of things in Group I, and, overall, there has been a massive improvement on the defensive side of the ball. This is an area that should only improve once Fabio Coentrao returns to full health and finds his way back in the starting XI.
Now sitting on 3 points, second only to Denmark and Albania (who had their match with Serbia abandoned today) on 4, Portugal’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 as group winners have been restored. Their next match is against Armenia at home on November 14th.
Schmeichel, Boilesen (Poulsen, 58’), Agger, Kjaer, Jacobsen, Kvist, Hojbjerg, Krohn-Dehli, Eriksen (Kahlenberg, 84’) Vibe (Bech, 46’), Bendtner
Patricio, Cedric, Pepe, Carvalho, Eliseu, William, Tiago (Quaresma, 84’), Moutinho, Danny (Eder, 77’), Ronaldo, Nani (Mario, 68’)
[0-1] Ronaldo, 90+5’