Portugal 6-2 Bosnia: Portugal better all over the pitch (and Bosnia’s complete reshuffle at half-time doesn’t help)
Paulo Bento’s side wobbled midway through the match, but overall deserved to progress to Euro 2012.
Bento made no changes from the first leg, persisting with a 4-3-3 formation with Helder Postiga upfront.
Safet Susic kept his midfield and attack in tact, but made suspension-related changes at the back. Sasa Papac was available again so started at left-back to replace Sejad Salihovic.
This was a completely different match from the first leg – much more open and also much quicker.
With the benefit of a decent pitch, the passing quality from Portugal’s midfield trio was clear. Miguel Veloso sat in front of the back four and generally got time to spray passes to the full-backs, whilst Joao Moutinho circulated the ball well and Raul Meireles moved forward slightly.
The home side’s midfield was much more compact than Bosnia’s, which featured Zvjezdan Misimovic high up the pitch and consequently difficult for the other two midfielders to locate, whilst Haris Medunjanin dropped very deep, as usual, to get the ball from the centre-backs. As a result, Portugal kept the ball better.
The midfield battle was interesting, because Merieles was much keener to close down Medunjanin than in the first leg, happy to leave Veloso and Moutinho further back protecting the defence. This meant Medunjanin didn’t get time to distribute the ball intelligently, he often misplaced passes, and therefore Bosnia’s play was slow and predictable when trying to build play fro the back.
The one problem with Portugal’s midfield being so tight in the first half was that there was, as usual, no real link between the midfield and the forward trio through the centre of the pitch, and therefore little creativity. Portugal still managed two goals in the first half, but these came from thumping long-range strikes from Ronaldo and Nani, rather than following any defence-splitting passes. The midfield won the possession battle, but didn’t win the actual game.
Incidentally, Nani’s positioning was more central than in Bosnia, which helps Portugal’s play. He can shoot with either foot which makes him very difficult to defend against, whereas in the first leg he was stationed wide on the touchline, never in a position to shoot and always likely to go down the line.
Elsewhere, the formation match-ups were very similar to the first half, although the one newcomer – Papac in at left-back – was perhaps the key individual. Bosnia created little in the first half, but the two chances they did fashion came from decent crosses from Papac. The first was headed onto the underside of the bar by Edin Dzeko, the second resulted in the penalty after Fabio Coentrao handled Senad Lulic’s header. On both occasions, Nani stood off Papac rather than getting tight, and turned his back and swung a hopeful right leg at the ball, rather than blocking the cross with his body.
Sweeping Bosnia changes
The start of the second half saw the most complete overhaul of a side ever seen in a match covered by ZM – eight of the ten outfield players changed positions, effectively in a chain including the entire side with the exception of Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic. Medunjanin became the closest player to Dzeko, whilst Lulic was presumably supposed to give more thrust from left-back.
The changes didn’t work particularly well – an understandably uncomfortable backline was opened up easily for Ronaldo’s goal, Portugal’s third, and in the aftermath Lulic was sent off, meaning Susic had to change his side even further. Darko Maletic came on for Elvir Rahmic and went to left-back, with Medunjanin moving deeper again in a 4-4-1 system.
Having dominated possession at 11 v 11, Portugal were even more on top after the red card. Bosnia briefly got back into the game at 3-2 with a goal from a set piece, but Portugal were able to play around them. The away side needed a goal, and had to come out and press Portugal, but this left gaps at the back. Ruben Micael came on for Meireles and found space well, setting up Postiga with a rare through ball. At 4-2 the contest was over, and Veloso and Postiga added two more to make it a rout.
The red card (for dissent rather than sporting transgressions) rather ruined the second half – it would have been interesting to see if Susic’s overhaul had worked, but they ended up getting thrashed.
Portugal were impressive, particularly with their ball retention in midfield, but there are still big question marks about whether they can turn dominance into goals. They still lack a top-class striker and will probably play without a designated playmaker, and the quality in wide areas can probably only compensate for one of these problems. A plan B, perhaps involving Danny, should be tried before next summer.
Still, Portugal’s pressing here was impressive and they defended well at the back during both legs, and they should provide tactical interest at Euro 2012.