Portugal 3-0 Saudi Arabia

No Cristiano, no problem.

Portugal exercised superb command of midfield from start to finish at the Estádio do Fontelo in a match benefitting those affected by the recent and devastating wildfires.

Gonçalo Guedes' searing pace, Danilo's passing control, and Bernardo Silva's vertical runs through midfield carried the Seleção to a dominant victory that the final scoreline did not wholly reflect.

Santos focused the intent of his experimentation on back-up options for left-back and goalkeeper by including debutante Kevin Rodrigues and Anthony Lopes respectively. Elsewhere, Gonçalo Guedes was rewarded for his blistering start to the La Liga campaign with Valencia, and Manuel Fernandes assumed the role of playmaker usually occupied by João Moutinho, his first start for Portugal since 2012.

Portugal immediately assumed control of midfield with Bernardo Silva and Danilo working diligently in possession. Manuel Fernandes marked his return to the squad with the first shot of the match, a powerful effort over the bar.

João Mário's deflected shot hit the woodwork minutes later after he had drifted inside from the left wing. Manuel Fernandes then had a close range effort blocked at the last second after good work from Bernardo Silva on the counter opened up space behind the Saudi defence.

Guedes really should have scored in the 15th minute after a corner found its way through the Saudi defence, but the Valencia winger misplaced his header just wide of the left upright. Guedes let another chance go begging minutes later when played clean through by André Silva, but he lost his footing at the critical moment.

Bernardo Silva orchestrated another brilliant move with João Mário that ended with a blocked shot from Manuel Fernandes as Portugal continued to look for an opening. The breakthrough inevitably came in the 32nd minute after Guedes showed brilliant chest control to bring down an excellent long ball from Danilo on the right wing. Having missed several chances himself, Guedes turned provider for Manuel Fernandes to score only his 3rd ever goal for Portugal.

João Cancelo forced a diving save from Al Owais in the 40th minute as the Seleçao closed out the first half well on top of proceedings.

Ricardo Pereira came on for João Cancelo to start the second half, and Portugal resumed their dominance. Guedes missed a fabulous chance to score just minutes into the half after a mazy run through midfield. His layoff for João Mário was returned but Guedes' eventual shot was placed just the wrong side of the post. 

Bernardo Silva was next to test Al Owais, who kick-saved the Manchester City midfielder's shot after good work by André Silva. The ex-Porto striker then fired a looping effort just over after displaying some exceptional footwork to keep the ball from two defenders. 

The next goal followed minutes later when Ricardo Pereira combined brilliantly with Bernardo Silva down the right wing. The Porto fullback eventually found Gonçalo Guedes for the routine finish, a deserved goal for the 20 year old and his first for the senior side. 

Bruno Fernandes warmed the keeper's mitts with a swerving effort from 25 yards soon after coming on as a substitute. André Silva then mishit a decent opportunity to score when set up by Guedes in the 67th minute as the match tempo became more disjointed as a result of substitutions. 

Bruma forced Al Owais to keep out a piledriver from 25 yards in the 80th minute with practically his first touch of the match. Though not at his electric best, João Mário capped a fine night's work from Portugal with a crisp strike into the bottom left corner from outside the box. 

Portugal's starting midfield quartet so effectively controlled the match that it was difficult to evaluate the performance of Anthony Lopes or the backline as the Saudis only recorded a handful of blocked shots all evening. Ricardo Pereira made his substitute cameo count as his effervescent pursuit of the ball and overlapping runs kept the right side of Portugal's formation wide open.

André Silva struggled without Cristiano Ronaldo alongside him even as Guedes ran riot through the Saudi defence on multiple occasions. Despite having had little time to develop chemistry with the squad, Manuel Fernandes' forward presence in midfield will certainly have complicated matters even further for Santos, who will be forced to choose which of Portugal's midfield playmakers to leave behind next summer.

The Seleção will play their final match of the calendar year against the United States on Tuesday in Leiria. 

  

by Nathan Motz

 

Starting Lineups

Portugal: Anthony Lopes, Kevin Rodrigues, Neto, Pepe (Ié, 56'), Cancelo (Pereira, 46'), Danilo (Neves, 75'), João Mário, Bernardo Silva (Gelson, 56'), Manuel Fernandes (Bruno Fernandes, 56'), André Silva, Gonçalo Guedes (Bruma, 75')

Saudi Arabia: Al Owais, Omar Hawsawi, Al Shahrani, Al Burayk, Ateef, Al Khaibri, Motaz Hawsawi, Al Hazaa, Al Dawsari, Al Shehri 

  

Goals:

[1-0] Manuel Fernandes, 32'

[2-0] Gonçalo Guedes, 52'

[3-0] João Mário, 90'