Saturday, November 18, 2017

Portugal Progress with Brazil Stalemate

By: Jason Le Miere

Portugal secured their progress to the round of 16 behind Brazil as the two sides played out an uninspiring goalless draw in Durban.
In a game of little incident, the main talking point will be the referee’s failure to send off Brazilian defender Juan for a handball that prevented Cristiano Ronaldo running free on goal. Elsewhere the best chances for either side fell for Nilmar and Raul Meireles. But, in truth, the quality of play did not merit a goal.

Although there were hopes of an exhibition of great skill given the quality of the players on show and the traditions of the two sides, perhaps, given the Group G scenario, a stalemate was always the likelier outcome.

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz appeared to set his team up with a priority not to lose the game and ensure his side’s progress ahead of the Ivory Coast. The more defensive minded Duda was bought into the team in place of Simao on the wing and throughout the


Photo from fOTOGLIF

game Portugal packed men behind the ball, leaving Ronaldo as a solitary figure in attack.

The first half had more bookings than chances, as referee Benito Archundia handed out seven yellow cards. The tetchiness of the period was reflected in Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo being substituted to prevent his running battle with his Portuguese counterpart Pepe from escalating to the point of a red cared being produced.

It was the referee’s failure to dish out a red card to another Brazilian that proved the most controversial incident of the match, however. A ball played over the top of the Brazil defense looked like reaching Ronaldo for a clean run through on Julio Cesar’s goal, but he was prevented from doing so by a desperate outstretched hand from Juan. Although the Portuguese appealed vigorously that he had denied a clear goal scoring opportunity, the referee produced only a yellow card.

The only clear-cut chance of a dismal opening 45 minutes fell to Brazilian striker Nilmar on the half-hour mark. The Villareal striker arrived onto Luis Fabiano’s cross at the far post, but saw his close range effort magnificently parried onto the post by Portuguese keeper Eduardo.

While it never looked likely that Ivory Coast would attain the at least nine goal swing that they needed, in addition to a Brazilian victory, to progress over Portugal, this did nothing to free up the Portuguese side for a more attack minded approach.
Ronaldo cut a frustrating figure alone up front for most of the match, but he was able to produce one moment of a note that led to Portugal’s best chance of the match. A typical marauding run forward was only thwarted at the last by defender Lucio, whose tackle sent the ball across the box where Raul Meireles was arriving but saw his shot turned wide by Cesar.

The last action of the game saw Eduardo continue to enhance his reputation as one of the tournament’s best goalkeepers with a fine save to deny Ramires’ deflected effort.

It is in their stinginess at the back that Portugal will take the most encouragement from after this dour encounter. Along with the excellent form of Eduardo, the defensive pillars of Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves, look incredibly solid and difficult for any side to breach. Three clean sheets out of three in this tournament speak for itself.

There are, though, still concerns for Portugal going forward, with Ronaldo looking like the sole creative force. While Meireles is capable of adding a valuable feather to Portugal’s attacking bow with his surging runs from midfield, he must be given the license to do so by Queiroz. For much of today’s match he was not.

Queiroz, himself, seems unsure of how to maximize his attacking blend, making changes in these positions for the third game running. Danny came back into the side to accompany Duda on the wings, with Ronaldo deployed at the point of the attack. While Duda failed to offer enough going forward, Danny did have a better game than his opening performance against Ivory Coast. Simao, though, again looked livelier when he came on, and he and Ronaldo should be restored to the wings. With neither Liedson nor Hugo Almeida, the side was missing a focal point in attack, making it hard for the Portuguese to keep hold of the ball when it was played out of defense.

It is not only in attack where Queiroz seems undecided about his best lineup. The right back position remains a problem, with Ricardo Costa surprisingly bought in for Miguel for this match. Although presumably picked for his greater defensive tendencies, Costa had several lapses at the back and also looked less effective than Miguel going forward.

Perhaps today’s game has set a blue print for Queiroz’s Portugal going forward in this competition: that against the better sides they will pack men behind the ball and rely on their solid defense to keep the opposition out and hope for some magic from Ronaldo to try and sneak a win. While there are doubts over the effectiveness of this strategy against a side with more urgency than was displayed by Brazil, it is also unlikely to win them many friends, either at home and certainly not through the rest of the world.

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