Belgium 0-0 Portugal
Portugal’s penultimate friendly match before the World Cup will have boosted optimism that Fernando Santos’s team can enjoy a successful tournament in Russia. After a shaky opening 15 minutes, Portugal more than matched a talented Belgium side in Brussels, holding the hosts to a goalless draw.
Without captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who joins the squad on Monday, a youthful Portuguese midfield and attack looked lively and enterprising. Perhaps even more significant, the veteran centre-back partnership of Pepe and José Fonte brought back memories of Euro 2016 with a rock-solid performance.
Santos pulled a surprise by leaving his usual starting striker André Silva on the bench, with Gonçalo Guedes given the chance to impress up top. Gelson Martins also got a rare start on the right wing, with João Mário on the left, and William Carvalho, João Moutinho and Bernardo Silva making up the rest of the midfield. At the back José Fonte was recalled to the position Ruben Dias had occupied against Tunisia.
Centre-backs hold firm
The Belgians - many people's tip as dark horses to win the upcoming World Cup - started brightly with Hazard's clever movement and silky touch causing Portugal problems. The home team were getting plenty of joy down both flanks with their overlapping full-backs finding space to send over a series of crosses towards Lukaku, but Pepe and Fonte dealt competently with everything thrown their way.
After 15 minutes of almost complete Belgian domination, albeit without calling Beto into serious action, Portugal began to click into gear. The mobile front line of Guedes and Gelson, ably supported by Bernardo Silva, started to combine well and cause problems for the hosts.
Moutinho had Courtois diving to parry a long-range effort, but Belgium hit back as Hazard found Carrasco who turned sharply and fired a dangerous shot narrowly wide. But as the half wore on Portugal began to cause real danger, William and Moutinho controlling matters in the centre of the pitch, and three times the Seleção came close to scoring before the break.
Portugal go close
First Bernardo made his trademark move, cutting in from the right and firing towards goal with his left foot, his effort deflected just wide. Next a lovely first-time pass from Guedes sent Gelson racing towards goal, but he shot wide from a tight angle, and soon afterwards a neat passing move opened up space for Guedes on the edge of his box, his low shot skimming not far past the post.
Despite an entertaining first half, neither goalkeeper had been forced into a difficult save, but that changed in the second half as only two excellent stops by Beto from Vertonghen and Meunier kept Portugal level.
Not that it was one-way traffic though, with Gelson and Guedes combining superbly on two occasions to create a half-chance for each, only for Guedes to completely miss his kick and Gelson to sky wildly over.
With both teams making the usual array of numerous substitutions, the last 20 minutes of the game petered out without much interest, and a draw was a fair reflection of the match.
Portugal play their final friendly on Thursday against Algeria back in Lisbon, before the World Cup opener against Spain in Sochi on 15 June. After a series of performances that can be described as indifferent at best, tonight's showing will give Seleção fans renewed confidence that Portugal can get something from that daunting first match against their Iberian neighbours to set themselves up for a positive World Cup.
by Tom Kundert
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany (Boyata, 58’), Vertonghen, Meunier, Dembele (Fellaini, 45’), De Bruyne, E. Hazard (T. Hazard), Mertens (Januzaj, 45’), Carrasco (Chadli, 45’), R. Lukaku (Benteke, 45’)
Portugal: Beto, Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, William, Moutinho (Bruno Fernandes, 86’), João Mário (Manuel Fernandes, 62’), Bernardo Silva (André Silva, 79’), Gelson Martins (Quaresma, 65’) Guedes