It was a big week for the National team heading into games 3 & 4 of Fernando Santos’ tenure. The good news now is in competitive matches he sports a 2-0 record, and overall has a record of 3 wins from 4 matches. I for one was not a fan of the hiring because with his pending suspension it puts the team in a precarious situation, but not one to cry over spilled milk, I also like to give folks a chance before I criticize them.
In the early phase I can’t say I haven’t been impressed with his shake up of the national team, he has tinkered with different squad selections and tactics dispatching Paulo Bento’s hardheadedness to the old folks home where it belongs. Instead of being on the wrong end of results against minnows Santos is getting enough out of his squad to win these tightly contested matches.
First up on the calendar was Armenia which is a Trump Towers version of Albania, an equally tough out over the last few years with better counter-attacking skills. Armenia has taken points from Italy, the Czech Republic and Denmark over the last few years, blowing out Denmark 4-0. Once again, just as against Albania, Portugal dominated possession 69% to 31% but the majority of it was from the periphery. This was clearly on show in the shot stats as Portugal had 30 shots on goal with only 5 on target, in contrast Armenia only had 9 shots with 6 on target and a few of those were extremely dangerous. Armenia took their chances when they sparingly had them and forced two goal saving stops from Patricio to keep the score line level at zero.
With Portuguese hearts fluttering all over the globe Ricardo Quaresma once again came on as a substitute and made a decisive run into the box, his rebound from a saved shot was pounced on by Nani who slotted Ronaldo on the goal line who chipped it over the Armenian defender for the winning goal in the 71st minute of the match. The monumental 23rd goal made Cristiano Ronaldo the all-time leading scorer in European Championship history surpassing Denmark’s Jon Dahl Tomasson and Turkey’s Hakan Sukur, both of whom scored 22 in their careers. This is a record Messi will never conquer as we know he didn’t pass the European Championships height restriction policy (kidding).
So two games on the trot Ronaldo was the difference maker for Portugal in securing wins in competitive matches which moved Portugal to within one point of Denmark at the top of the Group I table with a game in hand on the Danes. Of concern for Portugal was that Patricio had picked up an injury during the match that required bandaging, which would rule him out for the upcoming match with one of South America’s finest.
Next up was the highly touted friendly versus the #2 ranked World Cup finalists Argentina, which was hyped as Ronaldo vs Messi – The Battle of the Best players in the world. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to the billing. Argentina’s depth in midfield and attacking options made it difficult in the first half for Portugal to gain possession and control of the match.
Argentina had the first threat as Di Maria was sent in by Messi in the 5th minute after a horrible Andre Gomes giveaway in midfield but his shot from the top of the box skidded past the far post.
The media buzzed about Messi’s greatness as he broke down the Portuguese left beating Braga’s Tiago Gomes on a give and go with Ansaldi. Messi then beat Beto who had deputized in goal for Patricio but careened the shot off the near post and out.
The world media was alight with the Argentinian’s majestic run and goal opportunity as was the linesman, unfortunately for them all he was more than two strides offside. That play should’ve been whistled down, but it is Messi the world darling, he gets a good helping of fortuitous luck on top of his sublime skills.
For all the possession Argentina only ended up with 3 shots on target in the whole match.
It was actually the Benfica duo of Di Maria and Nico Gaitan who had the best of the opportunities on the night. Gaitan especially in the second half had some great moments including one where he flew through the air and tried to back heel the ball into the goal mid-flight on a cross from the left in the 76th minute. It would’ve been a ridiculous goal if he had scored it.
Fortunately for Portugal their defence held up all night with Pepe, Alves and Jose Fonte who came on for the Real Madrid CB in the second half. Tiago Gomes went off with an injury in 51st minute which allowed Guerreiro the Lorient Left Back to get his second ever cap all in one week for the Selecao.
As everyone was thinking this game would end in a goal-less draw Super Sub Ricardo Quaresma started to exert his skill on the right and the last 15 minutes were dominated by Portugal. Ricardo made a wicked cross in the 88th minute that was diverted by a sprawling Argentinian defender that literally saved a goal, as the cross ricocheted high on Eder who had the defence and the Goalkeeper beat to the near post.
In injury time Adrien Silva (first cap) made a great hacking run and his shot ricocheted to a marauding Quaresma at the byline and his monster cross found Guerreiro diving through the air to head home what was a magical goal for the Red & Green Army.
Once again Quaresma came on late to supply a fantastic assist in Portugal’s victory, making it 3 games in a row where his foot in the final third helped assure Portugal a win in International play.
So in the end Portugal won both matches, but let us not get too overly excited as both matches overall were lacking the quality that this team can produce at the best of times.
The Portugal vs Argentina match was disgusting in nature, as the officials were eating up all the simulation which just made both sides play a dirty brand of football. Argentina for all their depth still relies on Mascherano’s disgusting anti-football skills, collapsing to the ground regularly every time he was grazed like he had been shot in the offending limb.
Add to that the Southerners dirty tackles as the studs were constantly being stamped down on Portuguese ankles and heels, not enough to injure but just enough to cause pain and discomfort at a timely moment. This led to some frustration and whinging from the Portuguese players something they have been reputed to have done for the last couple of decades, which has never won them accolades with the game officials. This chippy play resulted in some ugly challenges from the Selecao that in a competitive match would’ve resulted in red cards most notably Tiago in midfield with a studs up challenge (already on a yellow card), and Quaresma’s hammer blow to the back of his opponent that got a severe scolding from British Referee Atkinson, this was meant to be a friendly. Not so much.
This type of retaliation has put the National Team in trouble in the past with some crucial dismissals along the way. Argentina’s negative tactics are sad considering the wealth of talent and depth they have all over the pitch, there is no need for that type of play.
In the end Fernando Santos was not happy with his teams performances over the last week and commented about how Argentina had dominated them in the majority of the match. He said, “I’m not happy with the performance, we have the ability to do better.”
There was much made of Fernando Santos’ squad selections over the last week most notably Bosingwa’s return in place of Cedric and Postiga’s return to the starting line-up in the Armenia game.
I was never a fan of Bosingwa’s first run with the National Team, like Joao Pereira his defensive abilities were non-existent most of the time, but in fairness to him he played much better these last two games in both directions and was definitely an upgrade on the youngster Cedric who got burned badly in both recent caps for the NT. Cedric is definitely one for the future but needs to work on his defensive positioning if he is going to make a huge impact at the international level.
As for Postiga and the much-maligned Eder the Striker role is still a sore spot for most Portuguese fans, it is an area Santos has been trying to rectify with many different strategies and tactics hence the inclusion of both Center Forwards in the roster. It is still a work in progress, but the facts are that Eder has been on the pitch for most of Portugal’s recent goals, and commands the attention of the defence he is facing. Is he a monster goal scoring number 9 definitely not, he is more of a Sub-Striker, and pulls the defence apart by holding up the ball well and driving to deep positions while the ball is on the wings. This has given space for others most notably Ronaldo to get free and score some crucial goals for the Selecao.
With Eliseu’s injury it was nice to see Tiago Gomes and Guerreiro get a run out especially considering how atrocious Eliseu is in the defending half anyways. Both did well with the opportunity, they are not great defenders for the most part but are definitely more serviceable until Coentrao gets back, and Guerreiro especially showed some real offensive skills in the final third, which resulted in his winning goal versus an Argentinian side that had much more quality and depth come on in the second half. His talented display made it that much more impressive in the end for the National Team as their depth players actually wrestled control of the game from the mighty Alba Celeste. Combine that with the impressive youth side’s recent success and the future looks bright for the Red & Green Brigade.
In fairness to Fernando Santos these results in the initial run out are impressive considering he is still juggling formations, selections, and player try-outs. Once he gets back some of the injured players and settles on a squad and formation, things could start to get on track quickly for him at the helm of the National team.
What was concerning though was Nani’s post game comments: “The coach is mixing the team up. It’s difficult to play excellent games when we don’t play together and we change systems.”
Is there already dissension in the ranks or is the quarter season of good play getting to Nani’s head? He is already talking of returning to Manchester United in January, deserting Sporting who revived his career. It is not what I would suggest for a player who has bouts with a lack of confidence. In my opinion I would say he is better off staying at Sporting, rounding out his game, and consistently helping the National Team before heading back for next season.
In conclusion it was an interesting week for the Red & Green once again.
Let’s finish with a round-up of this past week’s Highs and Lows for the Portuguese National Team:
- Portugal beat Argentina for the first time in 42 years
- Two wins from two lacklustre games
- Within striking distance of the top of the Group I standings with one game in hand
- Ronaldo scoring his 23rd goal in the European Championships putting him in the all-time overall lead
- Super Sub Quaresma strikes twice, again helping Portugal win both matches
- Santos continually testing new tactics and formations to find a match
- Portuguese youth getting a good run out against International Competition
- Bosingwa looks much improved from his first run out for the NT
- Adrien Silva finally got to play, and made the most of it
- The battle of CR vs Messi was won by Ronaldo’s team
- NT Defence looked good against a star-studded Argentinian attack that put 4 past Germany recently
- Jose Fonte at the age of 30 finally cracked the National team roster and did well for himself
- Argentina’s negative tactics are a disgrace, and they should be punished for it
- Portugal’s whinging and simulating tactics are not as bad as the Alba Celeste’s but Stop, Stop it NOW!
- Portugal’s over dependence on Ronaldo to score goals
- The Selecao as a team are playing too much on the periphery instead of having a killer instinct inside the last third
- Nani’s comments that threw the new coach under the bus. E Pa if you played for Man U and Portugal the way you have for Sporting this season your name would be up there with CR & the Messi one
- Playing 3 Box to Box midfielders is not a good plan as evidenced by Bento’s mediocrity. William should start as DM against any good team
- Minnow teams like Armenia should get a more attacking midfield with an Attacking Mid joining the trifecta up front (Dani, Joao Mario, or Silva)
- Danny still being mostly used as a Winger & Sub-Striker when he should be set as an AM behind a Striker.
- Moutinho although not bad is not good either and is holding back the squad, he should sit for a bit until he regains his level of play as we have better options
- 30 shot attempts versus Armenia with only 5 on target??
- Injuries to Patricio & Tiago Gomes fortunately there is a long break for the National team before the next match
Overall we have to take the positives from these last two games as well as Santos’ start as coach of the National Team. Progress was made as the NT has won games where they lacked the high end skill and attack we are used to.
Before the Selecao plays again we should have heard back from the European Court of Arbitration for Sport as to what their decision is on Fernando Santos’ 8 game FIFA ban, here is hoping Fernando gets to coach on and the Messi loving Sepp Blatter gets the horns.