Portugal may have won their second match at the FIFA World Cup, but the way things transpired during the 1-0 triumph against Morocco on June 20 worries coach Fernando Santos, who admitted his side needs to make tactical changes ahead of the tricky final group match against Iran.
Star striker Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Portugal in the grinding victory in their second Group B fixture after opening the tournament with a 3-3 draw against Spain. Ronaldo is the only scorer for the team and that’s not a great sign either.
In the match against Morocco, the European champions took the lead through Ronaldo early in the match but then struggled to create chances as the opponents dominated possession. Morocco had six more shots on goal -- a telling statistic.
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“We started well and we put the pressure on them," Santos said after the match. “We had some of the ball but it was a difficult game. Just like against Spain, we weren't able to hold on to the ball, but we have to deal with that. We ran out of lungs. We might have to make some tweaks in the strategy.”
However, “holding the ball” and controlling midfield are not how this Portuguese side plays. In fact, their title triumph at Euro 2016 was a saga of physical and grinding victories powered by counter attacks.
Portugal are playing to that tried-and-tested system in Russia as well, but they are getting exposed on the world stage, especially in the latter stages of the match when all that running behind the ball takes the edge out of their counter-punching strategy.
Portugal started in a 4-4-2 formation against Morocco, with Goncalo Guedes alongside Ronaldo in attack. But Santos switched to 4-5-1 in the second half to arrest Morocco's midfield dominance.
The move had little impact, and understandably so.
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The usual midfield quartet of Joao Moutinho, Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho are not exactly known for their ability to stamp authority on midfield. They are good cogs for a holding-and-countering game plan. And when Guedes was dropped into the mix, it just ended up isolating Ronaldo up front, rendering him ineffective.
“We needed to move players into the middle of the pitch to win back possession,” Santos said.
"Ronaldo was playing in a position that is not best for him,” added the coach. “In some aspects this was similar to the Spain match. We started to push higher after 15 minutes. The dynamics were slow. We have to improve in that area. We were good defensively, but we need to do better. We know that we have to change and get more possession of the ball.”
The result left Portugal with four points from two matches. The Iberian side can finish top of their group with a convincing victory over Iran next week. But the group is still open with each team having a fair chance to progress, and, so, victory is paramount.
“We have four points which is good,” Santos said. “But nothing is decided yet. Morocco probably has few chances (of progressing). But the other teams have possibilities. We really have to play well against Iran and then we'll see what happens.”
(With inputs from IANS)