Portugal earn comeback win vs. Mexico in controversy-filled third-place game
MOSCOW -- Three thoughts on Portugal's 2-1 win vs. Mexico in the Confederations Cup third-place match.
1. Portugal's comeback secures dramatic consolation win
Mexico came so very close to victory, but it was Portugal who ultimately claimed victory at Spartak Stadium.
El Tri were 1-0 up in second-half stoppage time only for Portugal defender Pepe to stretch out a leg and beat Miguel Layun to steer in a Ricardo Quaresma cross and send the game into extra time. A penalty from substitute Adrien Silva in the 104th minute -- conceded by a Layun handball -- wrapped up victory for the European champions.
This was an open and engaging match, perhaps a contender for game of the tournament. With better finishing from each side, it could have been 3-3 after 90 minutes, as both teams pushed players forward only to miss clear chances.
From a line-up point of view, it was Mexico that took it the most seriously, perhaps because of criticism back home, and coach Juan Carlos Osorio fielded close to a full-strength team. For Portugal, the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo overshadowed the match, but Fernando Santos also rotated some of the remaining members of his squad, with Nani captaining the side.
Portugal should have gone into half-time in the lead after a rash Rafa Marquez challenged a felled Andre Silva inside the box in the 15th minute. Referee Fahad Al Mirdasi didn't award it initially, but the video assistant referee (VAR) referral did. Silva stepped up, but Guillermo Ochoa saved.
Mexico's goal came nine minutes into the second half, with the hardworking Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez hustling down the left wing and firing in a low cross that Luis Neto unwittingly put into his own goal by the near post.
But Mexico couldn't hold on, and just as there were after the 2014 World Cup round of 16 against Netherlands, there will be questions as to why another lead was thrown away.
The game ended with each side having 10 men; Portugal full-back Nelson Semedo was sent off in the 106th minute after receiving a second yellow card, and he was followed by Mexico's Raul Jimenez six minutes later as the match became increasingly tetchy and the players tired.
There was further VAR controversy with two minutes to go. Hector Moreno appeared to be pushed by Pepe as he was about to head the ball in front of goal. The effort went wide, but Mexico appealed to the referee for a replay.
When the incident was shown again shown on the big screen in the stadium, Mexico's coaching staff and substitutes were incensed. Their anger did not dissipate when the on-field officials refused to refer the decision and Osorio was sent to the stands for his protests.
It was perhaps the clearest incident of the Confederations Cup so far that highlighted the teething problems regarding the new technology. This game may not have been given a lot of attention at first, but that talking point, as well as the contrasting emotions of both sides at full-time and a vibrant atmosphere created by the 42,659 crowd, made it an occasion to remember.
2. Ochoa produces a vintage display
Even though it ended in defeat, this was a fine performance from Ochoa at an opportune time. The 31-year-old is on the lookout for a new club after Granada were relegated from La Liga, and there were surely some admirers looking on at his man-of-the-match display against Portugal.
Ochoa's penalty save might actually have been inspired by Benfica's Raul Jimenez, who, after appearing to get a message from the Mexico bench, indicated to his goalkeeper that former Porto striker Silva tends to shoot to the goalkeeper's right. Still, the penalty was well-taken, and Ochoa had to stretch low into the corner to keep it out.
The former Club America goalkeeper has started four of Mexico's five games at the Confederations Cup. After Osorio's almost constant rotations over his first 19 months in charge, it looks like Ochoa is now emerging as first choice between the posts.
With that, Ochoa seems to be growing in confidence. In the 61st minute, he produced a memorable save from Gelson Martins. The young winger had the goal gaping and looked certain to score, but Ochoa's sharp reflexes clawed away the header, bringing applause from the many fans backing Mexico. It was a save reminiscent of one Ochoa made from Brazil's Neymar at the last World Cup.
Still, the shot-stopper couldn't do much about Pepe's equalizer nor Adrien Silva's well-taken penalty that decided the game.
3. Portugal lack finishing touch without Ronaldo
If you wanted a glimpse of what a Ronaldo-less Portugal might look like, it was provided by Sunday's match, and it was quite radically different. Shorn of its counter-attacking linchpin, Portugal had more control of the ball, played out more from the back and elaborated plays with greater patience.
The midfield trio of Danilo Pereira, Joao Moutinho and Pizzi controlled the center of the pitch against a Mexico side used to having possession; even in the 4-1 semifinal defeat against Germany, El Tri had 61 percent. But here Portugal had 56 percent of the ball during regular time, compared to 39 percent when the two played in the group stage.
And while Ronaldo was the most notable absentee, Bernardo Silva and Raphael Guerreiro were also missing. Portugal coach Santos also left Jose Fonte, Quaresma and William Carvalho out of his starting line-up.
Despite the spirit and desire shown until the end to win the game and this not being a bad performance overall, Portugal's standard of finishing was abysmal. Nani went close with a free header right after Andre Silva's penalty, while Pizzi shot wide on the hour mark from inside the box with no Mexican defender near. It was left to Pepe to show the more attacking players how it is done.
You-know-who would've surely scored a goal or two against a Mexican team again giving up space and chances, thus emphasizing Ronaldo's importance even in his absence.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.