Portugal wins it late against Mexico

Published Saturday, June 7, 2014 9:32 PM by Patrick Nuss

The recent match between Portugal and Mexico, hosted at Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, featured a very intriguing matchup. Portugal obviously chose Mexico as a team who closely resembles the United States, and for Mexico, it was a match to see how they stand up against world powers, similar to Brazil and Croatia, both of whom they will face in the upcoming World Cup. It was also a very beneficial match to the United States, who is obviously very familiar with their Mexican rivals, and was without a doubt taking notes on how they took on the Portuguese.

The lineup for Mexico was very defensive, as they started in a 5-3-2, with Rafa Marquez starting, a good sign for the Mexican side as his future was unclear after suffering a slight injury against Ecuador. Also interestingly, Corona started in goal over Luis Ochoa, although Ochoa was subbed on at halftime, an obvious sign that neither has won the starting spot for the World Cup. Guardado and Herrera were some of the standouts in the midfield, and up top were Gio Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta. On the other side was a Ronaldo-less Portugal. They began in a 4-5-1, with Bruno Alves dictating the back four, a very strong midfield, of which featured Moutinho, Almeida, and Nani, a player who on his day closely resembles Cristiano, and then Eder as the lone striker up top. Would the Mexican side be able to score goals with such a defensive formation? And could Portugal succeed without arguably the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a hattrick against Sweden to put them in the World Cup?

The game started fast, as Mexico signaled their intentions for the night with a free kick giving the Portuguese side fits, as it is only half-cleared, which led to another cross from the Mexican. The ball bobbled around, and led to a frantic scramble in front of the mouth of the goal, in which Moreno got in a shot in, which was brilliantly saved by the Portugal keeper, Eduardo, but the follow up was tapped in by Moreno. This made the predominantly Mexican crowd go wild, but was ruled offsides by the referees. No goal.

The rest of the half saw the sides very even in possession, and each looking to get down the flanks. Mexico’s wingbacks, Aguilar and Layun, were constantly allowed to get upfield, almost turning the formation into a 3-5-2 at times. A zig-zagging run by Vierinha almost resulted in a Portuguese goal, and then was met just a minute later from a similar play by Aguilar. Nani was certainly a standout during the game, as we saw flashes of his bright days at Manchester United appear, before he became out of favor, as he continuously got down his side and put in crosses that turned inches away from becoming goals. On the other side, Gio Dos Santos was putting on a show, and thus living up to his past label as “the Wonderkid.” Eder was allowed three quality chances in a span of three minutes, but Corona was up to the task. Then it was halftime. The game was wide open, but neither side could produce a final product, 0-0.

The second half began much as the first half had ended, with end-to-end play. Eduardo was again forced into a top save, which was then countered on the other end by Corona, who acrobatically turned aside a cross/shot by Nani. Then, it was Chicharito’s turn to come on in the 58th minute, replacing Gio Dos Santos, who had a good game. The Little Pea did not disappoint, as he hung up a cross to the back post merely seconds after he came up, which was met spectacularly by Guardado, but the resulting volley smashed harmlessly into the side-netting. Then it was Chicharito again, who delivered another brilliant cross to Herrera, who took a touch and whacked a volley at goal. The extra touch, though, gave Eduardo enough time to cover his post and deny the attempt. The opportunities were there, but would either team be able to steer one home?

Varela, who came on for Vierninha at the same time as Chicharito entered the match, had a wonderful opportunity to give his side the lead when he met a near post ball with his head, but only managed to direct his header into the grateful arms of Ochoa, who continued with the theme of the night and launched the ball upfield to start a counter. This led to a Mexican free kick right outside of the box, and who else to take but the legendary Rafa Marquez? The crowd waited hopefully, but the shot hit the wall disappointingly, much to the crowd’s frustration.

As the final ten minutes arrived Mexico obviously felt that they could win the match, and threw on attacker Marco Fabian and Alan Pulido. After picking up the ball in the final third, Chicharito raced towards the box, being hotly pursued by the defense. He picked out a brilliant pass to Pulido who was in on goal. Could this be the moment?! No. Eduardo, who had performed so valiantly all night, raced off his line to smother the ball, almost taking it right off Pulido’s feet.

Just as it looked like we would see a draw, the captain, Bruno Alves, came to the rescue. Moutinho’s free kick was curled into the top of the box, and was met powerfully by the head of Alves. The header was perfectly placed right into the top corner, giving Ochoa no chance. And that was how it would end. Maybe unfair to Mexico, who, as the underdogs, made the better chances all night, but could not finish.

As the game concluded we learned several things about both sides. Portugal, even without Ronaldo, is dangerous down the flanks and have the capability to provide killer crosses into the box. However, that will not matter if Eder and Varela cannot find their shooting boots and put balls into the back of the net. Mexico, on the other hand, showed that they have a better than expected defense, and counterattack well, but it seems like they will have the same problem Portugal does, their forwards are not deadly on the finish. That being said, the keepers from either side all performed superbly, and the coach will have a tough decision to make between Corona and Ochoa. As well as that, this game quite possibly could have given the United States some hope, as they look to advance out of the Group of Death…