Portugal 4-0 New Zealand
Despite making five changes from the team that beat Russia on Wednesday, Portugal were far too strong for New Zealand in the final Group A game of the Confederations Cup this afternoon.
Goals by Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty), Bernardo Silva, André Silva and Nani gave the Seleção a thumping 4-0 victory, the only negative being a yellow card picked up by Pepe ruling him out of the semi-final.
Portugal have an extra day's rest than their next opponents - almost certainly Germany or Chile - who they will play on Wednesday evening for a place in the final.
Santos rings the changes
With Portugal needing just a point to cement their place in the semi-finals, Fernando Santos called on the services of Ricardo Quaresma, Danilo Pereira and João Moutinho, sparing Sporting duo William Carvalho and Adrien Silva, as well as André Gomes, of any lingering fatigue before the likely transition into the final stages of the tournament. Eliseu overcame fears of a flu to deputise for Raphaël Guerreiro at left back, whereas a knock picked up late on by Cedric Soares in preparation for the clash paved the way for Nélson Semedo’s first appearance in Russia.
For ‘the Kiwis’, Wednesday night’s ill-tempered defeat to Mexico set them up for elimination, but a much-improved display against ‘El Tri’ increased hopes of a first win in an official FIFA competition for Anthony Hudson’s adopted nation, as the ever-impressive Dane Ingham assumed his position at right-wing-back.
Against the expectations of many, New Zealand kicked on from their impressive first half display against Mexico to make life uncomfortable for Portugal in the opening ten minutes, locking Santos’ men into their own half. Leeds United’s target man Chris Wood offered Ronaldo and co. their clearest warning as early as the 6th minute, hanging off Semedo at the back-post before firing a half-volley into Rui Patrício’s grasp.
Portugal would struggle to crack down their opponents on the deck, with Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva both finding openings behind the back-line with little success, but it’d be in the air that the ‘Seleção das Quinas’ would soon find their calling.
Ronaldo’s aerial threat
Ronaldo was first up in the 23rd minute, taking up his imperious stance from Ricardo Quaresma’s cross before heading the ball low but within Stefan Marinovic’s reach. The Portuguese skipper rose highest once more to the head at goal in a decent spell of dominance for his team, again courtesy of Quaresma’s delivery, but this time it’d be the crossbar to play a role in denying the Real Madrid man of the game’s first goal.
Echoes of Russia’s 1-0 lead over Mexico soon buzzed around the stadium at the midway point of the first half to plunge Portugal into second place, serving as an immediate reminder of the dangers at play.
Aerial play continued to promise to be New Zealand’s undoing, however, as Danilo Pereira came close with a header to earn his side a consecutive corner. From the resulting set-piece, the FC Porto anchor came into the frame once more to win his side a penalty, with the official neglecting the help of the video assisted referee as he pointed assertively to the spot.
Ronaldo stepped up to the 12-yard-mark and made no mistake in the 31st minute, propelling Portugal back to the top of the group following Russia’s momentary lead over Mexico in the opposing fixture.
Slick move downs New Zealand
Quaresma embraced the role of chief creator from the left, lifting the ball nonchalantly for Eliseu to hit the by-line with before cutting back a cross that would be tapped in promptly from close range by Bernardo Silva in the 37th minute.
André Silva was then lucky not to have blemished a strong end to the first half, as the new AC Milan striker took a wild swing at Michael Boxall following a dispute for possession of the ball, with the added benefit of replays again being ignored. Bernardo Silva wouldn’t emerge for the second period after the ankle scare that followed his first-half goal, making way for Benfica man Pizzi instead.
Despite the lead, there was bad news to come for Portugal as a booking for Pepe in 55th minute meant that he’d him miss out on next week’s semi-finals through the accumulation of yellow cards throughout the tournament. Things could’ve worsened for Portugal in the 57th minute when Wood neared his second Confederations Cup goal with a belated slide for the ball from the back-post, but a concerted effort from Patrício and Bruno Alves kept the sheet clean.
At the other end, Ronaldo provided a relentless threat from wide crosses, renewing his dispute with Marinovic who’d go on to gather up the captain’s headed effort yet again after an hour of play. With Portugal’s goal difference at the top of Group A hanging by a thread, André Silva saw his shot from inside the box denied by an inspired Marinovic, meanwhile Mexico threatened to topple Santos’ outfit elsewhere with a 2-1 lead over Russia.
Kosta Barbarouses came off the New Zealand bench to test Patrício with a snap-shot, whereas Nani, on for Ronaldo in the 65th minute, became the latest test the New Zealand goalkeeper without success.
André Silva would calm all doubts over top spot in the 79th minute, however, forcing his way into the box before slamming home an emphatic strike across goal on his favoured right foot. A fourth and final Portuguese goal would also be on the cards, as a quick step-over from Nani earned him enough space to fire at goal from the left and amplify the score to 4-0 into stoppage time.
The comprehensive victory means Portugal will now wait for the runners-up in Group B, expected to be between Chile and tournament nemesis Germany, before taking to the field on Wednesday 28th June for the first semi-final of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
By Patrick Ribeiro (Twitter: @P_SRibeiro)
Portugal XI: Rui Patrício - Nélson Semedo, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Eliseu – Bernardo Silva (Pizzi 45’), Danilo Pereira, João Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma (Gelson Martins 84’) – André Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo (Nani 65’)
[1-0] – Ronaldo, 31’
[2-0] – Bernardo Silva, 37’
[3-0] - André Silva, 79’
[4-0] – Nani, 90’