Portugal 2-2 Tunisia
The reigning European Champions got off to a flier in Braga this evening in the opening thirty-five minutes, thanks to goals from André Silva and João Mário. However, their dominance was unacceptably short-lived – and saw the North African side pull two goals back to hold Portugal to a disappointing two-two draw.
In stark contrast to their first half, Portugal were incoherent and were deservedly held to a draw by a largely inexperienced Tunisian side, with coach Fernando Santos making no attempt to hide his anger at the end of the ninety minutes.
The opening exchanges in this friendly encounter were by no means friendly and saw several rash challenges from both sides being flung in with little remorse. The Tunisians benefited from this substantially, creating a host of decent chances in the opening ten minutes of the fixture.
Minutes later, however, the European Champions had their first real sight of goal. Tunisia’s number one, Hassan, lackadaisically gave the ball to Ricardo Quaresma – only for Besiktas’ Messiah to put the ball over the bar from ten yards out.
Portugal started to assert their authority on the game gradually as the half wore on. Yet, despite their gradual dominance in possession, Portugal’s lack of cohesion amongst their back four was a perennial concern for the Portuguese faithful.
André Silva strikes
However, twenty-two minutes into the friendly encounter, the Seleção made the breakthrough. Bernardo Silva bamboozled his opposite marker to find Ricardo Quaresma on the right-hand-side and the Besiktas winger whipped in a teasing ball to the far post which found André Silva who headed past a helpless Hassan in the bottom left-hand corner.
Portugal’s dominance in possession began to thwart the North African’s defence, particularly in the midfield areas. This dominance was rewarded once more twelve minutes later, as Bernardo Silva's corner was headed away to the edge of the area where João Mário was waiting - and the West Ham loanee rifled a missile-like shot into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Despite asserting such dominance on their opponents, Tunisia scraped a goal back minutes later. Portugal’s back line had looked shaky throughout the early exchanges of this fixture, and their lack of cohesion was all the more prevalent in this instance. A fine move saw the African nation quickly switch the ball to the left side of the box courtesy of Raphaël Guerreiro’s positional lapse, with Sliti feeding a touch through to Badri to finish impressively from the edge of the box.
The European Champions would have been relatively content with their first-half display, with a host of chances that should have seen them score at least one more goal. However, the manner in which they conceded minutes after going two-nil up would have undoubtedly infuriated Fernando Santos.
As play resumed in the second half, Portugal began on the front foot once more. And, fifty-five minutes in, the Seleção were a whisker away from scoring their third of the evening through the magisterial Bernardo Silva. Manchester City’s playmaker weaved his way along the edge of the box, before striking a low effort that came back off the post, with Hassen then brilliantly denying João Mário on the rebound. Silva then had another chance but this time struck his effort high, wide and handsome.
As a flurry of substitutions were made as they often are in friendlies, the game eventually lost its exciting flow –, particularly amongst the Portuguese players. Tunisia began to reassert their ebb and flow to the fixture and were rewarded once more sixty-four minutes in. Anthony Lopes punched away an inviting Tunisia free-kick but the ball found its way back to Maaloul, who elegantly curled the ball into the middle where Ben Youssef tucked home with a sliding finish.
As the game progressed and more substitutions were made, it was all too obvious that Portugal’s tactics and game plan were a thing of the past. Tunisia’s two goals were entirely deserved as they proceeded to cause the Portuguese defence and midfield no end of issues with their insistent, direct counter-attacks.
João Mário and Rúben Dias impress
The result leaves much to be desired, but there were a number of positives to take from the fixture. João Mário, operating in a central role, caused the Tunisian defence no end of headaches with his determined, marauding runs and exemplary technique. Rúben Dias impressed greatly too and held himself like a seasoned veteran despite this being his international debut.
Certainly – and perhaps unsurprisingly – Portugal’s lack of cohesiveness in defence is the main worry for Seleção fans. The poor manner in which Tunisia’s two goals were conceded is entirely unacceptable for a team possessing such talent. That said, friendlies are experiments, and Fernando Santos has given very few reasons for Portugal fans to questions his methods just yet.
By Marino Peixoto
Portugal: Anthony Lopes, Ricardo (Cédric, 73’), Pepe (José Fonte, 63’), Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro (Mário Rui, 46’), William Carvalho, Bernardo Silva (Guedes, 73’), Adrien (Manuel Fernandes, 63’), João Mário (Moutinho, 80’), Quaresma, André Silva
Tunisia: Hassen, Nagguez, Benalouane, Meriah, Haddadi (Maâloul, 46’), Skhiri, Sassi, Khaoui (Youssef, 46’), Badri (Akaïchi, 87’), Sliti (Srarfi, 77’), Khalifa (Chalali, 67’)
[1-0] André Silva, 22’
[2-0] João Mário, 34’
[2-1] Badri, 39’
[2-2] Youssef, 65’