Game in a sentence

On a wet night in Moscow the hosts squeak by Portugal in a pivotal match from Group F putting them on pole position in the two team race to Brazil.

Observations

  • There will be multiple games played in Group F that won’t be very important at all in seeing who gets to Brazil 2014 but this was not one of them. With a lot on the line there was a concern that the match would be compact and dull but it turned out to be quite the opposite.
  • Russia may have won the game but it would be hard for anyone to say they were the better side. Fabio Capello set them up in a narrow 4-2-3-1 and made them tough to break down. Once they got their early goal the task of unlocking their defensive system proved even more difficult for Portugal who will rue that one mistake that cost them the game.
  • Portugal started brightly and set up camp in Russia’s end, a place they would spend most of the first half in. However, in the sixth minute, they found themselves in their own end and attempted to pass the ball around between themselves, something clearly Paolo Bento encourages no matter where on the field they do it. Ruben Micael then gave the ball away and seconds later it was in the back of the net; Roman Shirokov sending Aleksander Kerzakhov through on goal before the Zenit man calmly stroked it past Rui Patricio. The goal was harsh on the visitors and, in particular, their two excellent central defenders who’d been caught out of position by the quick transition.
  • Bento’s side responded well and continued to pass the ball comfortably despite the wet conditions at the Luzhniki Stadium. Russia were content on allowing their opponents to keep the ball and then breaking when required and that was pretty much how the game played out the rest of the way.
  • Portugal pressed intelligently and rarely broke from their gameplan, led by the heart of their side with the MVM midfield trio dictating the flow of the game. Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho both were excellent at Euro 2012 and the addition of Micael, in for the injured Raul Meireles, gave the team something different. The Braga man is more assertive than Meireles, times his runs better and finds space well. He also connects well with Cristiano Ronaldo and has excellent movement that is essential when you play close to the Real Madrid star.
  • Although Portugal need to be commended for playing such a style that is sure to help them going forward (we must remember how outstanding they passed the ball against Spain in the summer) there remains issues with such a plan. If they want to play ‘tiki-taka’ they absolutely need to be more patient, have better temperament and be more disciplined. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that their two Real Madrid players are more guilty than most in that area.
  • Their wide players, Ronaldo and, in particular, Nani, are move killers. When they get the ball the carefully, constructed attacking plan going forward comes to a roadblock. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with this (we must recall possession-based teams are often criticized for not being ruthless enough in front of goal) but far too often the position on the field where they decide to attempt magic isn’t close enough to the goalkeeper. They also both like to tuck in, Ronaldo more so, narrowing the game and allowing opponents to comfortably defend close together sacrificing wide spaces. Bento recognised this in the second half and had Ronaldo playing more centrally for the final 20 minutes, with Russia sitting so deep, and pushing left back Miguel Lopes further forward.
  • Bento will be all too familiar with the benefits and issues his personnel present and there does not appear to be too much else he can do apart from finding a better striker than Helder Postiga, but solving the Portugal #9 problem may be harder than getting world peace at this point. Nani is who he is while Ronaldo only reaches magnificent levels of performance by playing the selfish way he does. Micael’s presence will definitely help them score more goals and with a settled back five (Fabio Coentrao left injured in this game) and the inspired Moutinho and Veloso in midfield they seem set to make significant strides in the international game despite this result.
  • For Russia, fewer words are written on in this recap for a reason. There was little to learn from this team on this night in Moscow. Capello has got off to a flying start with nine points from three games and will be encouraged by the concentration shown by his back four and the skill expressed by the excellent Shirokov in midfield.
  • With Israel (where they already won 4-0), Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg also in this group there doesn’t seem to be many opportunities for Russia to lose points before they travel to Portugal next June. Portugal, who haven’t played well against minnows, must now win games against those sides to put pressure on Russia as the two continue a fascinating play-off to see who gets to Brazil automatically and who has to go through a playoff.

Three Stars

  1. Roman Shirokov
  2. Joao Moutinho
  3. Igor Akinfeev

Kristian Jack