This friendly between Greece and Portugal was certainly lacking in star power because Cristiano Ronaldo sat out, nursing a thigh injury. It showed it in a Portugal attack that consistently put pressure on the stingy Greece defense but lacked the poise and magic necessary to actually put the ball in the back of the net as the score ended at 0-0.
It’s hard to know what to expect from an international friendly between two sides that are gearing up for the World Cup. Both managers have to toe the line between giving the starting 11 enough opportunity to find their form, while giving the reserves a chance to earn a more prominent role.
The match ended in a goalless draw, but there were plenty of close calls for both sides and a number of positives for both managers to glean from the encounter.
The first close call came in the opening minutes of the game, as Nani lofted a beautiful ball into the box. Eder got his head on the end of the cross right in front of goal, but he headed it straight at Orestis Karnezis (the Greek 'keeper) and missed out on a fabulous opportunity to put his country ahead.
That opening attack set the tone for the first half, as Portugal looked like the more skilled side. The hosts put together a number of promising attacks—against a Greek defense that was content to sit back and play conservatively—but the Portuguese lacked the composure to finish them off or even really challenge Karnezis.
Portugal finished with 16 shots compared to Greece’s four, but the hosts only had four shots on goal—a clear indication of their inability to penetrate a very sound back line for the visitors.
As the game wore on, Portugal’s attack wilted a little, and Greece tried to snatch a late victory with an attacking flurry in the last 15 minutes that challenged the Portugal defense. In the end, however, they only managed to produce one shot on goal and one moment of fear in the Portuguese 'keeper.
Without Ronaldo in the fold, Nani stepped up in a very big way. He was the best player on the field and delivered a number of picture-perfect crosses and passes throughout the match.
He was crafty with the ball and looked like the most talented man on the pitch, and he also created a few chances and managed to challenge Karnezis—as shown by these nuggets from Tom Kundert of PortuGoal.net:
Another pinpoint cross from Nani nearly leads to breakthrough. Nani's crossing so often maddeningly frustrating but been spot on all night.— Tom Kundert (@Portu_Goal) May 31, 2014
Nani again. Cuts inside, forces sharp save out of Greece keeper. All doubts dissipated regarding who Portugal's "other" winger will be.— Tom Kundert (@Portu_Goal) May 31, 2014
If Nani can continue to play this well, that’s a huge boost for this Portuguese side in desperate need of some creativity opposite Ronaldo.
Eder could have started the match off with a goal, but he was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. It was the start of a match where he showed some sloppiness on occasion, but the good generally outweighed the bad.
He was physically imposing and managed to hold the ball up well to facilitate great link-up play and some one-twos with his teammates.
Eder will need to showcase some finishing skills around the goal if he is going to be a difference-maker for this team, but his strength and ability to finish off set pieces makes him a constant threat.
Greece’s Defense: A+
Greece’s modus operandi for a long time now has been to pack it in defensively and attempt to score on counter-attacks. This puts a lot of pressure on their defense, but the back line played brilliantly and never really looked like it was in danger of conceding a goal.
Portugal managed to create a few exciting chances early on, but the Greek defenders held up well in tense one-on-one situations and then locked down as the match went on.
The result may have been different with Ronaldo in action—Portugal would have at least created more chances—but the Greek defense played this match brilliantly.
Scoring goals will be the determining factor in their World Cup success, but there are no concerns about this defense.
Both managers will leave this match fairly content since it proved what we already knew. For Greece, their back line is very strong and hard to pierce, which gives them a chance in any match. The problem for them heading into the World Cup is the total lack of offensive firepower, and Kostas Mitroglou was a non-factor, which has to be disheartening for the visitors.
On the opposite side, we know that Portugal’s hopes rest on Ronaldo, and their rather toothless attack in this match proved as much. The good news is that Nani looked like a world-class player in this game, something that can’t always be said about the winger.
If Nani continues this form moving forward, it’s a good sign for Portugal, who need more than just Ronaldo to make it out of the "Group of Death" in Brazil.