Without Ronaldo, Portugal holds off Mexico
FOXBOROUGH — Brazil beckons, and Portugal will carry with it the reassurance that, if pressed, it can beat another World Cup-bound team.
Portugal defeated Mexico, 1-0, in a pre-World Cup friendly Friday night at Gillette Stadium. Captain Bruno Alves scored the winner in the 93d minute.
“It was another game of preparation that allowed us to reach some conclusions and try to correct some things that we didn’t do as well,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said.
After Mexico midfielder Marco Fabian fouled Portugal substitute Helder Postiga outside Mexico’s 18-yard-box, midfielder Joao Moutinho delivered a perfectly weighted free kick between the 6-yard-box and the 18, which Alves ran onto and headed past keeper Guillermo Ochoa for the game’s only goal.
The large contingent of Portuguese fans erupted.
“It was an extraordinary game,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said.
“The team demonstrated that they can do big things. We have to finish our attacks. Without doubt we have to focus on the attacks and finishing. But we can’t lose a game last-minute. When you are dominating a game, you can’t lose a game in the last 30 seconds.”
Without Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who sat out with left leg injuries, the Portuguese, who will play the United States in a Group G match June 22 in Brazil, still created several chances.
Six-foot-2-inch forward Eder found his way onto several crosses in the box, and nearly scored twice in the first half. He had four of the team’s six shots in the half.
Eder, plus wingers Nani and Vieirinha, formed a creative and threatening trio for Portugal.
No first-half play better embodied their on-field ingenuity than an Eder-Vieirinha connection in the 38th minute. A ball was played in the air to Vieirinha a few yards outside the 18, and the forward, with a defender on him, flicked his heel cleverly.
The ball fell directly to Eder, the tall, wiry-haired striker, who flicked it up to himself and let loose a volley that missed the goal by a few yards. It wasn’t Portugal’s best chance of the half, but it epitomized its offensive initiative.
Nani, meanwhile, danced his way around defenders regularly, providing crosses into the box and changing the point of attack with ease. In a game without Ronaldo, the agile Manchester United midfielder helped fill the massive void of speed and skill along the wings, embarking on probing runs that penetrated the Mexico defense.
Vieirinha was equally important for the Portugal offense.
One of his best plays of the first half was his pointed run down the right wing in the 14th minute: He ran at a defender, made him miss with a scissors, and unleashed a powerful left-footed shot at the near post. Keeper Jesus Corona, who was replaced at halftime, made a diving save.
The Portugal attack centers on strong play by its outside midfielders. When the United States plays Portugal in 15 days in Brazil, the Americans’ outside defenders — likely DaMarcus Beasley on the left and Fabian Johnson on the right — will be kept busy.
Portugal’s defense, though, looked vulnerable.
Mexico’s attackers breached the back line consistently, defenders miscleared easy-to-deal-with crosses and through balls several times, and searching runs frequently found a place behind the back four. Outside of keeper Eduardo, the defensive third was Portugal’s weakest; it looked indifferent and lost.
In the 61st minute, and in many others, Portugal’s defensive inelegance was nearly punished.
Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez, minutes after subbing into the game, received the ball around the left side of Portugal’s 18, with two defenders pursuing.
The Mexico attacker lost them and lobbed a cross to the far post, where midfielder Hector Herrera brought it down and let rip. Eduardo made himself big, stood tall, and made an imposing save to keep the game scoreless.
Bento said he expects similar challenges from Portugal’s World Cup opponents.
“We have the goal of moving out of the group stage,” he said. ‘We know we will have a great many difficulties because all teams are very well-organized, strong teams, with great individual players. They will create a lot of difficulties for us of reaching our first goal, which is to advance.”