Questionable choices in starting XI doom Portugal to mediocre display against Mexico

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Ricardo Quaresma celebrates his Confederations Cup opening goal with Cristiano Ronaldo, who assisted him, in Portugal’s 2-2 draw with Mexico in Kazan, Russia.

Portugal’s debut at the Confederations Cup was a mixed bag. The Seleção drew 2-2 to competition veterans Mexico, twice taking the lead before allowing the opposition to quickly equalize.

On one hand, getting a point in a match you take two separate leads is frustrating. On the other, Fernando Santos’ side was abysmal for much of the match, perhaps feeling lucky to get anything from Kazan.

Here are some thoughts on the match:

— Fernando Santos’ choices for his starting XI were questionable at best.

Starting Ricardo Quaresma, a man who has been a spark plug off the bench always seeming to help solve matches since last summer, was puzzling.

Insisting on starting Andre Gomes in spite of his mediocre performances is just stubborn.

Not including Andre Silva, a striker who scored seven goals in his first eight appearances for the Seleção and who is beginning to develop a great understanding with Ronaldo up top in the 4x4x2, was downright idiotic.

As soon as Silva came on as his team’s final substitution in the final 10 minutes, he began to wreak havoc on the Mexican back-line. Moments before Cedric scored Portugal’s second, Silva forced Ochoa into his best save of the night with a header to the far post. After the goal, he made a brilliant run through midfield and set up Gelson splendidly. Silva makes the attack run far more smoothly than the 3-winger line-up Santos trotted out, so it doesn’t make sense why the Engineer was reconstructing something that wasn’t broken.

Even his substitutions were a tad strange.

Taking off Nani at the hour mark was smart as he wasn’t able to provide much to the side, and while Gelson wouldn’t have been my first choice, the Sporting youngster had a positive outing and justified Santos’ faith.

But in the same motion, Santos removed João Moutinho, who wasn’t playing well but wasn’t awful, and put on a direct replacement in Adrien. The Sporting midfielder did little more than receive a yellow card, not changing the dynamic of an attack which was struggling mightily to create anything at all.

Santos isn’t a clueless manager — you don’t win the European Championship by accident — but his selections against Mexico were frankly awful. The final result masks a truly terrible display, one of the worst since Santos took over the side in 2014.

Given the final result of a draw, getting a victory over group leaders Russia is crucial to Portugal’s hopes of advancing to the Confederations Cup semi-finals. Lose or draw, and his team’s fate lies in the hands of the Russians and Mexicans. (there’s a Trump joke to be made in here somewhere).

 

— Cristiano Ronaldo was absolutely magnificent on the day.

Those who critique him for being selfish should watch what he did over the 90 minutes against Mexico. He brilliantley timed pass for the opener, finding Ricardo Quaresma wide open at the far post after Salcedo was caught ball-watching. Had his eyes all over the pitch, spotting runs from teammates. Found Andre Silva on a scorching run through midfield, a play which should’ve ended in a third goal to seal the win had Gelson hit it just half-a-foot closer to the post. He didn’t create much danger directly, but he showed, once again, his ability to create for his teammates and how he can make the team better single-handedly.

— My first interaction with the video assistant referee in a match featuring a team I support was not a positive one. Pepe put the Portuguese side up midway through the first half, only to have his goal called back for offside a few passes before his header.

The decision was the right one and in the end, I believe it’s a good thing that there be justice in a sport notorious for having bad calls decide the outcome. But I’ll admit it was annoying to see a goal taken away, no matter how correct the decision.

— As for the goals, they were fantastic. As I said above, Ronaldo’s patience and vision in the opener was superb, waiting for the right time to release a perfectly timed ball to an onrushing Quaresma. The winger would be patient in his own right, choosing to control the ball and wait for Ochoa to dive before dribbling past him and burying the strike. Well-done by both players.

As for the second, it’s always nice to see a player who doesn’t score often bury a strike. It took some fortune and a couple of bad bounces off of Hector Herrera, but right-back Cedric was at the right place at the right time, finishing calmly over Ochoa to put Portugal back up.

Strangely enough, this goal was also reviewed by the VAR despite there being little signs of any illegalities. But the goal stood and an entire team, its fans both at the stadium and back home all let out a sigh after holding its breath.

— I’ll give Andre Gomes credit where it’s due — he wasn’t the worst of the bunch. But while he didn’t perform as badly as many of his teammates, that doesn’t mean he did well. Gomes was sloppy in possession, didn’t provide much help in defense and aside from a fantastic cross to Andre Silva in the final 10 minutes, didn’t provide much in attack either.

Playing in the spot of such a dynamic player such as João Mario, Gomes is a big downgrade to the Portuguese attack and it shows. With Bernardo Silva, a versatile, tricky player at his disposal, Santos is robbing his team of having quality going forward.

Portugal was horrendous in the first 20 minutes, losing possession almost immediately as Mexico had its way, doing whatever it pleased with the ball. They began holding the ball for more than five seconds at a time shortly after, but it wasn’t until Andre Silva came on that the team had any cohesion in attack.

The solution is simple, or at least it seems to be for everyone but the man who makes the decision. Hopefully Sunday’s Confederations Cup opener taught him the lesson Portuguese fans have learned long ago.

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Follow Brian Fonseca on Twitter @briannnnf for updates. Email him at brianfilipefonseca@gmail.com with questions, concerns, tips or story ideas.

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