Showing posts with label Portugal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Portugal. Show all posts

23 June 2014

Visualized: USA 2-2 Portugal

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka, as well as ESPN FC for the average position diagrams for both sides.

An FYI. Chances are, I won't often include substitutions in the passing networks, but it seemed important to display two of Portugal's: Eder, on in the 16th minute, and William, on at halftime. Both were more involved in the game than the players they replaced.

There were few surprises in the Portugal passing network. Ronaldo and Nani both further forward than Portugal's "striker"; a very tight midfield triangle, with Veloso's average position pushed left because of his switch to fullback at halftime; a lot of interplay between Moutinho, Pereira, and Nani down the USA left, although Nani struggled to keep the ball moving, completing few passes with Portugal's other attackers, creating only one chance and averaging just 66.7% pass accuracy. And, unsurprisingly, Ronaldo was a black hole – except, of course, for his infuriatingly perfect assist on the late late late equalizer (sigh) – taking more shots than any other player. And he clearly wasn't fit either, missing the target with six of those seven shots. The USA's numerous interceptions also helped disjoint Portugal's attack – 19 in their own half, 12 in the defensive third – demonstrating the Americans' smart defensive positioning.

The US passing network shows a reasonably compact midfield – at least between Beckerman, Bradley, and Bedoya, with Bradley very much the hub – and a clear desire to exploit Portugal's left flank. The US started its attacks on their own left, Howard mostly passing to Besler, working the ball into midfield, before trying to find Johnson, Zusi, or Jones (then Yedlin as a substitute) down the right, a tactic which demonstrably led to the second US goal. It's no coincidence that 12 of Portugal's 15 interceptions were clustered in that quadrant of the pitch.

Altogether, it was a see-saw match, one seemingly necessitated by the game state at the time. Portugal's early goal meant the USA needed to come out, while Portugal retreated into a shell similar to the USA's against Ghana, with the Americans averaging far more possession in the first half compared to the second. After the halftime changes, and the subsequent US equalizer, Portugal responded, and responded even more after the the Americans' go-ahead goal.

The "wave diagram" from Infostrada Sports excellently captures the ebb and flow:

The heat and humidity in Manaus probably had something to do with it as well, requiring each team to take the foot off the gas at times, most notably the USA just before the end of the first half, with the referee calling for a water break in the 39th minute which was very much needed.

Both sides also made crucial substitutions. Eder for Postiga was a wash – neither made much of an impact – but Portugal's halftime substitution was decisive. Veloso's move to left-back helped stem the tide on that flank, while William did well to break up the USA's decent midfield play, attempting more tackles than any other player despite only being on the pitch for 45 minutes, with only Veloso completing the same total. And Varela was the super sub with the late goal, just as he did against Denmark in Euro 2012: like yesterday's from a cross that defenders were in position to prevent.

But the USA's changes were just as important, especially DeAndre Yedlin, his pace responsible for the go-ahead goal, emulating Fabian Johnson's bursts into space in the final third, that pace much needed as the starters tired. The other two substitutes, coming on in the final few minutes, made less difference, although Wondolowski held play up well when given the chance.

Conceding with seconds to play was a kick in the shorts, but on the balance of play, the draw was probably merited by both sides. Portugal with more possession, taking more shots; the USA with better opportunities while matching Portugal in midfield and able to exploit the holes in Portugal's formation thanks to Coentrão's absence and Ronaldo's unwillingness to track back and ostensible lack of fitness. Of course, both of Portugal goals came from preventable mistakes: Cameron's wayward clearance, Bradley's inability to keep possession with the final whistle imminent. If only the USA had held on for 30 more seconds…

27 June 2012

Spain 0-0 Portugal aet

Spain win 4-2 on penalties

Spain: Alonso, Iniesta, Piqué, Ramos, Fàbregas
Portugal: Moutinho, Pepe, Nani, Bruno Alves

The king still lives. But barely.

"You come at the king, you best not miss." And Portugal had zero shots on target. Zero. 11 efforts: eight off-target, three blocked, all but three from outside the penalty box. Which admittedly, wasn't much better than Spain's two on target from eight until extra time – where they were markedly improved – but Spain's been here, done this before, and have the t-shirts and trophies to prove it.

Sure, after 90 minutes, Spain were as unimpressive as at any time during their run through the last three tournaments. At full time, Spain had completed just 469 of 553 passes, both lows for this tournament. As was the resulting 85% pass accuracy, after 89% against Italy, 92% against Ireland, 89% against Croatia, and 89% against France.

Credit for much of that goes to Portugal, although some was self-inflicted (*cough Negredo cough*) and some was the valid "two days less rest" excuse. But Portugal were outstandingly diligent in midfield; Veloso, Moutinho, and Meireles took turns pressing Spain's engine room, ensuring neither Xavi nor Xabi (nor Iniesta when he dropped deeper) had time to create anything. Portugal's back four has been one of the tournament's best, and Pepe and Bruno Alves remained excellent, while Pereira limited Iniesta and Alba more than any other right back has been able to so far.

Still, Del Bosque's gamble, starting Negredo instead of Torres, Fàbregas, or – god forbid – Llorente, was an utter failure.

He had absolutely zero impact in 54 minutes, unceremoniously hauled off in favor of Fabregas soon after the interval. Regardless of the usual superiority in possession, which was slightly less superior than usual, Spain were limited to one clear cut chance in the first half. The first was from the usual player left free – Arbeloa, typically Spain's least potent threat and unsurprisingly rarely tracked by Ronaldo – but he ballooned his ninth-minute shot from Negredo's cutback. Otherwise, Iniesta had a couple of off-target efforts after linking up with Xavi and Alba, while Portugal fed off whatever scraps Ronaldo self-created, with Almeida much less menacing than against the Czechs.

The second half remained in a similar, yawn-inducing vein, even after Fàbregas replaced Negredo, shortly followed by Navas in place of Silva. Once again, Del Bosque sent on a tricky, cross-happy winger after taking off his "orthodox" striker. It was even less effective than against Croatia, where Navas and Fàbregas combined for the winner at the death. Still, as always always always seems to happen, Spain clawed further and further up the pitch as the opposition tired. Pedro replacing Xavi in the closing seconds, with Iniesta shifting to the play-making central role, exacerbated the gap.

As FourFourTwo amusingly pointed out, Portugal were even worse in extra time than England were against Italy. England! Interplay between Alba and Pedro led to Spain's best chance of the match late in the first half of extra time, with the left-back – Spain's star player today, and arguably throughout the tournament – breaking past three to the byline and cutting back for Iniesta, but Rui Patricio smartly saved the midfielder's placed shot.

With Spain unable to break through a determined Portugal defense despite the vast improvement in the final thirty minutes, we got penalties for the second match running. And there were more than a few similarities to the England-Italy spot-kicks. Level after Alonso and Moutinho missed while Iniesta, Pepe, Piqué, and Nani scored, up stepped Sergio Ramos, with a Xerox copy of Pirlo's Panenka straight down the middle. Once again, psychology works. Once again, the next penalty taker – Bruno Alves – cannoned his effort off the crossbar. Fàbregas scored the fifth, just like he did to beat Italy at Euro 2008, with cameras immediately focusing on Ronaldo, left standing, lip quivering, unable to even have a chance at being the hero. The schadenfreude is overwhelming. Yes, I am a petty, petty man.

By anyone else's standards, Spain are worthy finalists, the superior side in each of their five matches. But by their own, and those we've set for them, it's another ho-hum ground-out victory, eking through thanks to a penalty lottery.

But Portugal winning would have been similar to England beating Italy. Italy were more dominant, in shots and attacking flair if not possession, while England are assuredly not at Portugal's level. Portugal – and yes, Ronaldo – had an outstanding tournament, especially the midfield and back four, and were deserved semi-finalists. But Spain were the better side, are the better side, and will now face Germany or Italy for the chance to do what no other country has ever done.

Are you not entertained?

21 June 2012

Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal

Ronaldo 79'

Midway through the first half, this game turned on its head. The Czechs were impressive early on – 55% possession, 9 crosses into the box (of their 11 total), 5 corners (of their 6 total), but no shots on goal. Unfortunately, that advantage didn't last long. The Czechs attempted 124 passes in the first 23 minutes. They attempted just 184 in the next 70. 79% completed over those first 23 minutes, just 61% completed after. Once Portugal woke up, it was all Portugal all the time, and only a matter of time until Portugal opened the scoring. And once Portugal woke up, this was as one-sided as a 1-0 win can be, only that close because of some excellent Czech defending and a bit of luck from the goal frame.

The key to Portugal seesawing the match was getting its midfield trio on the ball. Meireles, Moutinho, and Veloso were all excellent, wholly out-matching Darida, Plašil, and Hübschman, a 4-1-2-3 completely on top of a 4-2-3-1 – a better holding midfielder, and the two more-attacking midfielders either out-numbering their counterparts or forcing the other midfielder – whether Darida or Plašil – to drop far deeper into defense than he's comfortable.

It's no coincidence that Veloso and Moutinho were also Portugal's top tackle-winners – Veloso with 5 of 5, Moutinho 3 of 3 – and with the most interceptions – Moutinho 3, Veloso 2, the only Portuguese players with more than one.

I thought Meireles' play was especially clever, most likely by planned design. His decision-making still left something to be desired, specifically his propensity to shoot wildly from the parking lot, but his movement was outstanding. He mostly played on the right side on midfield in the three group games, but was parked on the left today. His movement out to that flank to help pin back the dangerous Gebre-Selassie and overload that zone along with Coentrão and Ronaldo.

Of course, rather than the midfield trio, Ronaldo will get the headlines. The poster boy, the goalscorer, the most ubiquitous threat. He single-handedly created all of Portugal's first half chances – a fierce shot saved by Čech called back for a foul anyway, a bicycle kick whistling wide of the near post, a free kick sailing wide of the far post, and then clever control, turn, and a shot off the post seconds before the interval.

Almeida's introduction for Helder Postiga also helped shift the game. Portugal would have preferred not to make the change, with Postiga stretchered off in the 41st minute after a hamstring injury. Almeida, who hadn't played a minute in this tournament until that point, is more of a target man, another threat on crosses who demands more attention from a center-back.

And Portugal clearly favored crosses as the primary mode of attack, little surprise with players like Nani (6), Meireles (7), Coentrão (7), and Ronaldo (3) in the line-up.

With 36 crosses in total and near-total possession after the turning point midway through the first half, Portugal were bound to score from one of them. Only Liverpool can take that many crosses without converting at least once.

The first chance after the restart came from yet another of those opportunities – Meireles storming down the left flank, but Almeida misdirecting his header wide. From there, it remained the Ronaldo show, again hitting the post, shooting over, and heading over. Nani and Meireles added off-target efforts, while Čech brilliantly saved Moutinho's shot from distance in the 64th.

There was little the Czechs could do to stem the tide. They prefer to play on the counter-attack, but Portugal rarely allowed any counter-attacks. Bilek replaced Darida on the hour mark, sending on Rezak to man the right flank, allowing Jiráček – the Czechs' best player in Rosický's absence – to play in the hole, but the Portuguese – specifically Veloso – rarely let him sniff the ball. Baroš' blast from distance, created by dropping deep into space made by Jiráček's movement between the lines, was the Czechs' only shot of the half. One of their two shots in the match.

Still, the Czechs defended well, and while Portugal's onslaught was unceasing and a goal frequently felt inevitable, the goal required outstanding work from all involved in its creation. The biggest surprise was that the cross came from the right rather than the left. Nani's layoff split the winger and left-back, perfectly placed for Moutinho's charge forward. One touch around the flat-footed Plašil, getting to the byline before sending the cross in. Ronaldo's movement and header were just as impressive, aided by Gebre-Selassie's ball-watching. Waiting until the last possible moment to cut in from the left, darting in front of the right-back, then an unsaveable diving header downward, bouncing over Čech into the roof of the net. Just an excellently-worked, if deeply unlikable, goal.

Portugal, reaching the semi-finals for the third time in the last four Euros, will face the winner of France v Spain. And will be in a good position to challenge either side. Both of those teams prefer to dominate possession, which will allow Portugal to counter quickly if they can keep the opposition from breaking through. Neither of those teams have aerially dominant center-backs – Spain's are obviously better than France's – or especially defensive full-backs. Portugal's three-man midfield is well-designed to counter Spain's impressive troika, and the Spaniards will assuredly remember the difficult match against Portugal at the previous World Cup.

13 June 2012

Denmark 2-3 Portugal

Pepe 24'
Postiga 36'
Bendtner 41' 81'
Varela 87'

It's fitting that an excellent, narrow match was decided by a singular late moment of brilliance. Despite Portugal going two up with ten minutes left in the first half, Denmark diligently fought back, only to go down to Varela's 87th minute strike, just two minutes after he entered the fray.

Denmark started well, with as many corners in the first seven minutes as they had all game against Holland, but were unable to carve out chances from the early pressure aside from Pepe's excellent block after a broken corner fell to Eriksen. That Niki Zimling went off injured after 15 minutes, replaced by Jakob Poulsen, assuredly contributed to Portugal's ascendancy, but Portugal did well to exploit gaps down Denmark's flanks.

It was a simple set play goal for Portugal's opener. Pepe used Simon Poulsen and Nani at the near post to set a pick, releasing him from Agger's close marking, and cannoned an unstoppable header just past Andersen's flailing hand.

Portugal's second was even more unforgivable. Coentrao, perpetually dangerous coming forward from defense, was given the freedom of Lviv with Rommedahl caught upfield and neither holding midfielder covering in time. His cross only found Simon Poulsen, but Portugal picked up possession from the clearing header with both Nani and Pereira in acres of space. Nani crossed, Agger left Postiga to Kjaer, and the often goal-shy forward made a great run to easily get in front of the center-back for another near post goal.

Denmark looked unlikely to pull one back, let alone two, but were back in the game five minutes later, and fairly impressively at that. Jakob Poulsen's chipped cross to the back post found Krohn-Dehli behind a negligent Joao Pereira, selflessly heading across goal to Bendtner, catching Pepe and Bruno Alves flat-footed and Rui Patricio wholly out-of-position for a headed tap-in.

Aside from the 20-minute stretch after Zimling's injury until Portugal's second goal, Denmark had more possession and played more 'comprehensive' football, but the final ball frequently eluded the Danes. And thanks to the lead, Portugal spent the second half defending deeper and deeper, content to counter, bypassing the midfield and looking for quick, direct passes to Nani and Ronaldo on the flanks.

Honestly, it should have worked, as Ronaldo should have iced the game earlier. Nani's long cross-field pass found CR7™® wide open five minutes after the restart, with Jacobsen caught upfield, but, racing in on goal, he shot tamely at Andersen. Nearly through in the 64th after easily turning Kjaer, Agger recovered for a crucial interception on Ronaldo's pass to Postiga. The most egregious was in the 78th, when Nani's first time throughball again found Ronaldo running behind Jacobsen and Kjaer, but he somehow shot wide from 12 yards out, dead center, when 1-on-1 with Andersen. It was karmic that Bendtner's equalizer came less than two minutes later.

Jacobsen, given space time and time again because of Ronaldo's unwillingness to track back, finally found a target with one of his cross, as Bendtner out-jumped Pepe to head past Rui Patricio. But Denmark couldn't hold on. Six minutes later, Coentrao spun Jacobsen and raced past Kvist to the byline. Varela, evading Simon Poulsen, mistimed his attempted volley, but was first to react, spun his hips brilliantly to get over the ball, then somehow shot around Poulsen past a diving Andersen. Denmark threw Agger forward, the tried-and-tested "chuck the center-back up front and hoof hoof hoof" tactic, but when Denmark's substitute had his chance in injury time – Schøne open from the right side of the box – he blazed his shot high and wide. Those are the margins which decide these games.

Like Sneijder for Holland in Denmark's last match, Daniel Agger did not deserve to be on the losing side, despite his role in Portugal's first two goals.

All six of his attempted tackles in the last two games have been successful. He saved Kjaer (who, in contrast to the last match, was terrible today) multiple times, made crucial tackles, interceptions and blocks, and fervently threw himself around in attack in the dying stages. On form, he remains without peer. But without heroics from Krohn-Dehli, Poulsen, and Kjaer, the other stars against Holland – and despite Bendtner's – it was without reward.

As with Group A, this group will go down to the last day. Portugal and Denmark both have three points, as do Germany – about to play the Netherlands. Both Portugal and Denmark have incredibly difficult matches to come on Sunday. I guess they don't call it the Group of Death for nothing.

29 June 2010

Spain 1-0 Portugal

Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Busquets Alonso
Iniesta Xavi Villa

Costa Carvalho Alves Coentrão
Ronaldo Tiago Meireles Simão

Villa 63'

Villa, Villa, Maravilla...

Outside of the opening ten minutes, with Torres' early strike reminiscent of his goal of the season against Sunderland and two from Villa cutting in from the left saved, Portugal made Spain work incredibly hard in the first half. There's a reason they were one of two teams to make it through the group stage without conceding.

As has happened often this tournament, Spain were narrow, with Iniesta often on top of Xavi, leaving massive gaps for Coentrão. Conversely, the charging Portuguese left back, as well as Ronaldo and Simão, used the flanks well, limiting Spanish possession, even though la Roja still had the clear edge.

And despite those very early chances, Portugal had the better opportunities to open the scoring. In the 20th minute, Tiago found space with the Spanish defense awkwardly retreating, with Casillas making the save and punching the rebound clear under pressure from Almeida. Eight minutes later, Iker spilled Ronaldo's deep, swerving free kick, thankful to see Pique clear the rebound.

Too often, Spanish possession led to naught, and I've been massively impressed by the way Quieroz has organized his defense. They were happy to sit deep, negating Torres and Villa's pace as well as limiting the space for shrewd operators such as Xavi and Iniesta with Pepe tackling everything that moved.

Once again, Torres will come under a lot of scrutiny, anonymous and off the pace after his first-minute shot, and it was little surprise to see him go off before the hour mark. Portugal again nearly snuck a goal after the interval – breaking down the field, Almeida turned Pique and centered, with Puyol almost redirecting into his own net, watching the ball luckily bounce just wide of the far post with Casillas stranded.

But Spain finally broke loose after the substitution, with the target-man Llorente replacing the Liverpool striker. The substitute nearly scored seconds after coming on, his first touch a diving header on Ramos' whipped cross, only to see Eduardo again equal.

Then came Villa. He curled a shot a foot wide of the far post less than a minute after Llorente's chance, then finally got his fourth of the tournament in the 63rd. Finally, the Xavi-Iniesta axis paid dividends, Iniesta to Xavi at the top of the box, with a lovely backheel putting Villa in on the left, aided by Simão watching the theatrics instead of marking the striker. Eduardo saved the first shot, but had no chance when Villa sent the rebound into the roof of the net. At long last.

And a goal to the good, Spain's tiki-taka attack was the absolute best form of defense, with Portugal unable to get the ball back, let alone threaten the Spanish backline. Eduardo saved excellent efforts from Ramos and Villa to prevent a game-killing second, giving Portugal the chance to frazzle nerves in injury time despite Costa's sending off for an elbow that Capdevilla rightfully played up.

But neither Ronaldo, prancing and petulant as usual, nor his minions, could test Casillas, and Spain's now one of the three European sides in the quarterfinals having beaten back the younger brother in the Iberian derby. Portugal scored seven goals this tournament – two more than Spain – but all of them came against North Korea. Cote d'Ivoire, Brazil, and Spain – three tough teams, to be sure – all shut them out. I hope Nike still has the receipt for that Ronaldo statue.

All headlines will focus on Villa, and rightfully so. Yet again with the winner, having tallied four of Spain's five goals and providing the assist on the other. There are still worries – Torres' fitness, the defense's susceptibility, Casillas still shaky at times, and a lack of width. But Portugal, with Ronaldo, Simão, and Coentrão, as well as Danny off the bench, were unable to test that lack of width or punish gaps left by Spain's attacking fullbacks and narrow midfielders. That bodes well.

Next up is Paraguay, who dawdled through an absolutely awful match to win on penalties this morning. But as Switzerland frighteningly proved in the first match, Spain simply cannot rest on its laurels.