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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.