Portugal left it late at Estádio Algarve as two Ronaldo headers secured a 2-1 victory against a stubborn Republic of Ireland side. The result sees the Seleção go three points clear of Serbia at the top of Group A in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Fernando Santos’ substitutions made a big contribution to the victory, but the fact that two late goals from Ronaldo were required provides Santos’ critics with more ammunition against the most successful manager in the history of Portuguese football. Let’s leave that aside for now, focus on what happened in Loulé and what it means for the team moving forward. 

The fact remains Portugal have several of the world’s most highly prized players and were you to take advantage of the bonus code to bet with bet365 a wager on the Seleção going far in the Qatar World Cup may not be a bad idea. For Portugal to prosper though, Santos must find that so far elusive team chemistry. 

 

Santos changes

Fernando Santos had two months to reflect on Portugal’s Euro 2020 exit. I wanted to ask him what has been on his mind during that time, but in a carefully managed post-match press conference that almost felt rehearsed, there was no opportunity.

His continuation with the 4-3-3 formation meant the main changes we saw to the starting side was Bernardo Silva moving from the right wing into midfield and Rafa Silva getting a start.

Rafa’s ineffectiveness meant he was hooked for André Silva at half time which saw Jota switch to right wing and Ronaldo drift to the left. Bruno Fernandes, also ineffective, was replaced by João Mário who played well and provided the assist for the winning goal.

João Moutinho’s introduction for João Palhinha was another substitution that worked out well for Portugal, alongside Gonçalo Guedes who assisted Ronaldo’s first goal after replacing João Cancelo.

There were recurring difficulties breaking down a defensive minded opponent, in this case one with three narrow central defenders and wing-backs that rarely ventured forward.

Finishing the game with 72% possession, 29-6 shots, 14-3 corners and Rui Patrício having very little to do highlighted Portugal’s dominance, but their inability to create more goalscoring chances against a well organised team that constantly resorted to cynical timewasting will frustrate many.

Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo finally did it. After making his debut against Kazakhstan in August 2003, he eclipsed Ali Daei as the highest goalscorer in international football.

After taking his tally to 111 goals in 180 games, you can bet that he won’t rest there, and will do everything in his power to keep scoring and give himself the best opportunity to stay top until most of us are pushing up daisies.

He was guilty of some poor passes that invited unwanted pressure, but there is arguably no better header of the ball in the history of the beautiful game. He rescued his nation once again with his incredible thirst for goals, never say die attitude and it was an honour to witness it live.

Ronaldo was released from the squad today after picking up a yellow card that sees him suspended for the trip to Azerbaijan. The games against Qatar and Azerbaijan will be a good opportunity to see how the team performs in his absence.

Palhinha

João Palhinha forced his way into the starting side at Euro 2020 and was rewarded with another start in Loulé. He was replaced by João Moutinho in the 73rd minute as Ireland sank deeper into their own half.

Fernando Santos has quickly warmed to the holding midfielder, praising his ability to disrupt Ireland’s attack, cover ground, make important interceptions and recycle possession.

It appears we have seen a change of the guard in the holding midfield position, the 26-year-old moving ahead of Danilo Pereira, Ruben Neves and William Carvalho.

Club combinations

If you look at most of the successful nations since Spain’s dominance from 2008 to 2012, many of them featured club combinations which meant that familiarity at club level could be transferred to the international stage.

Portugal were the beneficiaries from this in the knockout rounds at Euro 2016 when Sporting CP players dominated the midfield.

Bernardo Silva’s relationship with Manchester City teammate João Cancelo is an important one for Portugal. Bernardo's move to the midfield means he has more opportunities to link up with Cancelo which is what we could see much more of moving forward.

Bernardo missed a glorious chance to equalise in the 74th minute after pushing higher up field, “a goal I can't miss”, but he was one of Portugal’s more influential players who needs time to adjust to his new role.

Many of Portugal’s players at Wolverhampton are on the fringes of the first team, which means the other club combination that could flourish is on the other side of Manchester. Ronaldo’s move back to United opens the door for a relationship with Bruno Fernandes to develop.

Bruno

Bruno Fernandes has not been able to replicate his sensational form at Sporting CP and Manchester United. Given the playmaker role by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as soon as he arrived at Old Trafford, Fernando Santos has been unable to get the best out of him on the international stage.

It’s a curious conundrum and another weapon for Santos’ critics. It's obvious why Santos persists, but it appears there is simply no room for Bruno in the starting side of a 4-3-3 formation when Renato Sanches is available.

Nuno

Nuno Mendes replaced Raphael Guerreiro in the 62nd minute as Portugal piled on the pressure. The 19-year-old didn’t have as much impact as Guedes, but there is little doubt he is knocking on the door and putting pressure on Guerreiro's starting spot.

His move to Paris Saint-Germain to play alongside Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé is a dream come true, now he just needs enough game time ahead of Juan Bernat and Layvin Kurzawa.

By Matthew Marshall

Comments (14)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Take #7:

Fernando Santos is wasting the best generation of Portuguese talent in 20 years but apparently still has support from people who have the vision of Stevie Wonder or think that his 2 trophies will buy goodwill for the next 50 years.

Ser...

Take #7:

Fernando Santos is wasting the best generation of Portuguese talent in 20 years but apparently still has support from people who have the vision of Stevie Wonder or think that his 2 trophies will buy goodwill for the next 50 years.

Seriously, each game shows.more and more how out of ideas Santos is. Before we face Azerbaijan, I'd like to remind everyone that they are ranked 112 in the world. We beat them 1-0 in the first game. 1-0 and that was an own goal.

So, while I hope I am wrong, I see us once again struggling to do anything with the ball against #112 in the world, and it will be because of Fernando and his "praying to the Virgin Mary" tactics.

This article seems to praise substitutions as some credible source of tactics. If you gave me $1 million, you still could not convince me that Santos had any shadow of coherence with what he wanted from those substitutions. The 2 goals were still part of his one and only gameplan: cross into the box and pray to Mary that Ronaldo comes through.

For anyone who is in touch with reality, please watch any of Italy's last 10 matches or hell, even watch Denmark at the Euro.

Italy used a 4-3-3, Denmark a 3-4-3, but each of them used triangles on the wings to create space and attackers sitting just behind the opposition defenders. They each had a gameplan, knew what to do, and executed.

Then watch Portugal, with arguably the most potent attacking players in the world: cross after cross after cross. Even our set piece game is shyte. Please analyze these other teams and then come back and defend Santos. You wouldn't be able to.

Passion for the Seleccao is what brings us all together, and we're all allowed to have different opinions, but even the most staunch Santos supporter has to have been disappointed with this first display after a horrendous Euro; more of the same and zero improvement.

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Couldn't agree more. You nailed it.

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Thanks brother.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I am thankful and do not care how Fernando Santos went about winning the Euro 2016. It’s something we’ve all wanted and it came. However the available players now is far superior and the reality is he isn’t getting things done. There is no game...

I am thankful and do not care how Fernando Santos went about winning the Euro 2016. It’s something we’ve all wanted and it came. However the available players now is far superior and the reality is he isn’t getting things done. There is no game plan outside of cross/launch it towards Ronaldo’s head. That is not a game plan. That’s a losing plan. Thank you Santos but you’re time has come to an end…three years ago.

Ronaldo is Ronaldo. He scores. This team is NOT better off without one of the most prolific goal scorers on the planet. If the team doesn’t perform as well as it should when he’s on…that’s down to the manager. I will say I don’t think he should be on for 90 minutes in the more intense matches as he tends to just not contribute. I think he might be more effective with 60 minutes or so of play. That way he doesn’t need to conserve as much.

Paljinha rightfully earned his spot.

Club combos could be invaluable…but it’s up to the manager to make use of them.

I’m sick of Bruno. He needs either the team to be built around him (I am not in favour of this) or he needs to just be gone. He contributes nothing.

Nuno surely has made a claim for the left back position. However, if he isn’t playing he can’t justify being on the team. He imo is good enough to be playing for PSG. But often a youth kid isn’t going to get the nod at clubs such as these. It’s simple though. If he doesn’t play for club he has no business being near the NT. Time will tell but I don’t have a good feeling about him there.

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Matthew, I am one of the "bandwagoners" and I mind you:

Back in 2012. Portugal was super-close to win the Euros already. They were glorious in the semis against Spain and they'd have beaten Italy in the final, no doubt. Everybody would have...

Matthew, I am one of the "bandwagoners" and I mind you:

Back in 2012. Portugal was super-close to win the Euros already. They were glorious in the semis against Spain and they'd have beaten Italy in the final, no doubt. Everybody would have praised Bento as the first manager to win Portugal a trophy. And ot would have happened exactly what we are witnessing now with Santos at the helm. More of the same as long as Ronaldo save the coaches ass, until he's finally sacked, because it worked anymore or there was one slip to many. The difference: Santos won that trophy, Bento not. But the name of the difference is not Santos, it is "Spainedition 2012".

For me, to see zero development since 2016 weights more than witnessing "Ronaldo saving the nation again". So back to square one, it is only Ronaldo + 10. How pathetic. No identity, no creativity, statistics that do by far not tell the truth: 29 shots from where did they come and where did they go? And possession means nothing.

And bottomline: yes, there is one name for this stagnation, it is Santos.

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Good overview. Palhinha is like a double pivot all on his own. Didn't know much about him but very impressed. Who's got Ronaldo has got everything. Still think Portugal can do something big at the World Cup. Just get these qualifiers done and...

Good overview. Palhinha is like a double pivot all on his own. Didn't know much about him but very impressed. Who's got Ronaldo has got everything. Still think Portugal can do something big at the World Cup. Just get these qualifiers done and who's to say it won't all click in the tournament. Força Seleção!

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Just like it clicked at Euro 2020?

I'd like to introduce you to this famous quote to tell you how WC2022 will go:

"Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results"

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Agree. Hope we're wrong -- BUT, so far we're right. Predict more of the same frustrating, repetition: i.e.Portugal consistently underachieving in qualifiers, depending on Ronaldo last minute heroics, squandering 2-0 leads, vulnerable on set plays...

Agree. Hope we're wrong -- BUT, so far we're right. Predict more of the same frustrating, repetition: i.e.Portugal consistently underachieving in qualifiers, depending on Ronaldo last minute heroics, squandering 2-0 leads, vulnerable on set plays or counterattacks from the likes of Luxembourg, 1-0 over half-ass opponents... ...Then, ending up 2nd & taking hard road to get out of qualifying (letting opponents like Ukraine or Serbia get the sweet path). Which then puts us in 2nd or 3rd "pot" for major tournaments, meaning being in yet another "Group of Death" Then more struggle to get thru to round of 16 where we usually get dumped from the tournament...

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On point about the club combos. Hopefully CR7 and Bruno can develop understanding at Man U then do it to the national team.

Nuno Mendes-Gonçalo Inácio-Palhinha-João Mario-Pote could all start. They worked like clockwork for Sporting last season.

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"Fernando Santos had two months to reflect on Portugal’s Euro 2020 exit. I wanted to ask him what has been on his mind during that time, but in a carefully managed post-match press conference that almost felt rehearsed, there was no opportunity."
...

"Fernando Santos had two months to reflect on Portugal’s Euro 2020 exit. I wanted to ask him what has been on his mind during that time, but in a carefully managed post-match press conference that almost felt rehearsed, there was no opportunity."

- He learned nothing Matthew thats what he learned. His days of fixing the Selecao are over, he is just going through the motions. There is no plan, there is no chemistry, there is no spirit. Its "pass to Ronaldo". He has finally become what all Portuguese managers become, to his credit it took him longer than most.

Portugal will qualify, get past group stage and bomb out again. Writing on the wall due to Santos refusal to bench the "star players" who are wasting a space and play with a true #9. If he plays Jota and Silva (either Rafa or Bernardo) and they dont score, its HIS fault and they DONT score. He keeps doing it....dude some of us we been watching the Selecao since the 80's none of this is new. Its the same pattern repeating itself.

"Why isnt Miguel playing?"
"Why didnt he call up Vitor Baia?"
"Why is Simao taking free kicks?"
"Why is Pauleta starting over Nuno Gomes??"

This donkeys make the same mistakes over and over for what? Loyalty? Play the better player even if that player cant do a damn thing right?? Its ridiculous.

Bruno F should not play. Portugal play better with a true #9 and they actually have 2 very good ones, Andre Silva and Pedro G both coming off glorious seasons. HEY you know why we won that final game vs France? Guess how?? EDER a true #9.

Anyhow, rant over. Im tired and the long weekend is coming up. I need some vinho.

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We need to wait for the recovery of Joao Felix & Renato.

Secondly a good defenders is required like Ricardo Carvalho to pair up with Pepe, who is agile a good tackler.

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Neville, that line of thinking is what is holding us back.

It isn't just about talent, of course it helps, but we have plenty. It is about a system, a philosophy that maximizes the collective talent of a team, regardless of the players...

Neville, that line of thinking is what is holding us back.

It isn't just about talent, of course it helps, but we have plenty. It is about a system, a philosophy that maximizes the collective talent of a team, regardless of the players available at any given time. The coach can control who is available, but he can control the system he uses.

Of course Renato would have helped, but he isn't here. So what I would infer is that we have no way of driving up the middle than Renato? I would agree with that, even though Bernardo tried early on. So that is why we go wide and rely on wing play.

We have to be able to exploit many different areas, so if they shut down wing play, we go up the middle and vice versa and everywhere in between.

Also, Renato being gone highlights another strategic weakness, we have no attacking up the middle with pace.

I know Ireland parked the bus, but, they did also press us and we couldn't punish them for that. Once we broke the press, we leisurely walked up the ball, instead of attacking with pace and purpose. That gave them enough time to get back and put numbers behind the ball. And so we have no advantage.

Much needs to change. The players you can see are not on fire to win. It has been too long of a reactive strategy, we also need a proactive one that relies on teamwork and not Ronaldo's scoring and Pepe's defensive individual talent.

I will give you one example of lack of teamwork. Bernardo, you know our tallest and strongest player, made a few runs up the middle against the Irish. Of course we tried to find him, that made a lot of sense. But now if a player, comes in behind the space vacated or into newly created space, then we might have something to work with. I don't mind the initial run, just to set up second and third decoy runs, but that wasn't the case. So we literally have probably our smallest and weakest player in a triangle box between two center backs and a tall goalkeeper, to what head the ball?
I know, it was going to magically drop perfectly in the triangle, right to Bernardo's feet.

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Aside from Portugal's greatest liability (Santos) - I see too many players in our XI trying to be the focal point of attack. Bernardo, Bruno, Cancelo, and Ronaldo all seemingly demand the ball and want to be 'the guy' starting moves in the...

Aside from Portugal's greatest liability (Santos) - I see too many players in our XI trying to be the focal point of attack. Bernardo, Bruno, Cancelo, and Ronaldo all seemingly demand the ball and want to be 'the guy' starting moves in the opponents half. It's a desire to satisfy one's own self, Nobody is being accountable or willing to take a back seat and this is what happens when there's no system in place. I'm not a Rafa apologist, but look at how his own teammates squeezed him out of the game and pretended he wasn't there simply cause they could handle the game on their own. It's so, so frustrating to watch and if this is how it's going to be I really hope we lose to Qatar and Azerbaijan and every game after that until this coach is fired.

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I don't know if it was intentional on the part of his teammates, but with Cancelo being back on the right flank, Rafa was almost made obsolete as a result.

I like Rafa a lot, and I think had he gone to Porto back when Benfica and Porto fought...

I don't know if it was intentional on the part of his teammates, but with Cancelo being back on the right flank, Rafa was almost made obsolete as a result.

I like Rafa a lot, and I think had he gone to Porto back when Benfica and Porto fought for his signature, he might have developed a bit more, but as it stands, his directness is a great trait.

The problem is that direct football is not a Santos tactic. He only knows the plan of a thousand crosses.

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