Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
Portugal managed to secure their place in the World Cup second round thanks to a 1-1 draw with Iran. It’s not been a classic tournament for the European champions, but they still managed to make it in to the top two. After finishing third in their group at the last two major tournaments, that marks a step up.
However, are they ready for a huge clash with Uruguay in the next round? Here we’re looking back over their group finale, to see what worked and what didn’t for Fernando Santos and co.
Also see: Portugal Vulnerable in Morocco Victory
Top Spot Snatched Out of Their Hands
One obvious issue for Portugal was the costly penalty decision which let them down in their group finale. Three sides went in to it with a chance of finishing top, and one of them was set to be knocked out. Two of them featured in this game, while Morocco added some drama with an inspired display against Spain, despite having nothing to play for.
The Portuguese were leading the group at half-time, after Quaresma’s goal. That lasted up until the last few minutes of the game, when a decision turned everything around. Iran were handed a late penalty, when Enrique Caceres wrongly gave a penalty for handball against Cedric Soares.
Iran converted the spot kick, made it 1-1 and set up a tense finale. Meanwhile, Spain’s late equaliser against Morocco took them back to the top. That moved Portugal back down to second having scored fewer goals than their Iberian rivals. They had to hold out to make it through to the last 16, but that didn’t make up for the huge, incorrect call that cost them first place. That one swing left them with a tougher last 16 tie, although they do miss out on facing the hosts.
Did Portugal’s Changes Work?
Santos brought in three players for this clash; Adrien Silva, Andre Silva and Ricardo Quaresma. We pointed to serous midfield problems in the Morocco game, and bringing in Leicester man Adrien was an improvement for the European champions. He made 106 passes – more than any other player. He also lead the way in touches, time spent on the ball and made the highest number of tackles for his side. Most of all, his backheel sent Quaresma on his way for Portugal’s goal.
Andre Silva had a much quieter time of things, with the second lowest number of touches of the 11 who started. He took 76 minutes to hit his first and only shot of the game – which went high above the goal. It’s hard to see his display earning him another start.
However, the same can’t be said for Ricardo Quaresma, who had a strong game on the right wing. It probably helps that he was replacing the underperforming Bernardo Silva, and scored a brilliant strike. He outperformed the Man City man in every way, as a threat running at players, while he used the ball well. In a side who don’t exactly have a lot of width, his 11 crosses give the European champions another dimension. It’s hard to see City’s Silva featuring in Sochi this weekend. The Besiktas winger should cause Uruguay problems on this showing.
Portugal Improved at the Back
Portugal were strong at times against Iran, and they managed to keep 73% of the possession in their final group game. They finished the first round with a win and two draws, and oddly enough their worst display was the victory. They were clinging on at times against Morocco, but that does sum up this side. We saw their defensive strengths two years ago, and that’s been key for them in the last two games.
Portugal may have shipped three in their opener, but since then their defence is getting back to its best. Pepe and Jose Fonte were much better against Morocco, and they did their best to keep a clean sheet in this clash. They won almost everything in the air, while making key interceptions and tackles to keep Portugal ahead. That’s got to be a bonus for Santos, as those two were seen as a possible weaknesses ahead of the tournament.
However, their full-backs are oddly underperforming, despite being one of their strongest areas. Neither Cedric Soares nor Raphael Guerreiro made a tackle in the game. Ricardo Perreira is bound to be hoping to step in at right-back after that, but Santos doesn’t tend to make changes on a whim. He may also look to the fact that Uruguay started with wing backs and no wingers in their last game. That would certainly give Portugal’s full-backs an easier time of things.
How Does This Campaign Compare to 2016 so far?
Portugal may not have enjoyed the greatest group stage campaign in Russia, but they know that isn’t everything. They drew all three opening matches at the Euros in France, which left them third behind Hungary and Iceland. That slow start didn’t stop them from lifting the trophy, as they improved as the tournament went on. Can they do the same at the World Cup this summer?
They finished the group stage with five goals scored and four conceded, better than the four and four from 2016. With their defensive displays improving, they did look more like the side who triumphed in 2016. However, they’re much more reliant on Ronaldo for goals this time around. On the bright side, he’s already topped his tally for the entire Euro 2016 campaign, and his combined goals from the last three World Cups.
One thing to note is Portugal’s last 16 opposition. Their first knockout game in France was a late extra-time win against Croatia. Two years on, Uruguay are the much-fancied side who the Selecao face. While their defence will be tested, this feels like a familiar test for Portugal.
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