Bruno Alves was the hero for Portugal, who sent Mexico off to the 2014 World Cup as losers with an stoppage-time header that lifted the Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portuguese to a 1-0 victory at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Friday.
The final pre-Brazil friendly for El Tri was headed to a scoreless draw despite 90 minutes of great scoring chances from both teams, but with one 93rd-minute free kick from Joao Moutinho that found the head of Alves, Portugal got the victory.
ESPN SportsCenter capped up the result:
Mexico falls to Portugal in final international friendly before World Cup, 1-0. El Tri opens in Brazil on June 13 vs Cameroon.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 7, 2014
The Mexicans entered Friday's friendly facing plenty of questions as they get ready for Brazil, most importantly of which is how they plan to make up for a plethora of injuries suffered just before the World Cup.
Early on, they looked adamant on answering the questions that have risen in recent friendlies.
With a big crowd advantage, Mexico were the aggressors early on. Giovani dos Santos and Oribe Peralta combined for a couple of early chances and a speedy match from the get-go was being controlled by the presumed hosts.
They may have been playing without star Cristiano Ronaldo, but it didn't take long for Portugal to arrive with the best scoring chance thus far of the contest. In the 22nd minute, Portugal striker Eder was one-on-one with Mexico goalkeeper Jose Corona after beautiful through pass from Fabio Coentrao. He fired it on target, but Corona deflected it out of danger.
That wasn't the only great chance the Portuguese had, as Nani found Hugo Almeida right inside the box only for him to sky it way over the bar.
But every time Portugal manufactured a chance, El Tri would take notice. Mexico's speed allowed for quick counters that forced a couple of Portugal's goalkeeper Eduardo, but neither side's efforts were enough to break the scoreless draw that went on through halftime.
Fox Soccer's Kyle McCarthy took notice of Mexico's solid half:
Good half from Mexico. Organized enough. Controlled in possession. Adjusting well enough to threat posed by Portugal.— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) June 7, 2014
The start of the second half, as is the case with most of these pre-World Cup friendlies, featured substitution after substitution and that only carried on into the second half. But it didn't take long for that to turn into a huge advantage for Mexico.
El Tri subbed in star striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez for dos Santos and Portugal quickly countered by inserting striker Helder Postiga. And in the matter of seconds, the match swung in Mexico's favor.
Hernandez immediately injected scoring chances into an offense that had been good but not great, and Mexico quickly re-gained the upper hand for the rest of the match in terms of offensive output and quality chances.
As Mexico continued asserting their will in the second half, Portugal got more and more physical. Before the 80th minute, three of the four Portugal defenders had been booked.
One of the yellow cards proved questionable when Portugal's Joao Pereira was shown a yellow card for what looked like no contact just outside of the box, but it didn't pay off as Mexico fired the free kick into traffic.
Heading into stoppage time, the match looked destined for a scoreless draw before Mexico found what looked to be one last scoring chance.
Things opened up in the 89th minute for Chicharito, who fed it forward to Alan Pulido—who had been subbed in just 10 minutes prior—for a wide-open opportunity from 20 yards out. Once again, Eduardo came up clutch for the Portuguese as he attacked the ball and shooed off the opportunity.
Eduardo's performance in net drew the attention of Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera, per ESPN FC's Tom Marshall:
Miguel Herrera: Again the opposition goalkeeper was their man of the match.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) June 7, 2014
In three minutes of stoppage time, there wasn't much doing and Moutinho lined up for Portugal to boot it toward the net. Had it gone out of play, the match may have been called.
It didn't. Instead, Alves rose up to put it away with a beautiful header that lifted Portugal to victory.
Shortly after the winner, Grantland's Men in Blazers poked fun at the ending:
Bruno Alves hair was cut by a Ghanian Witch Doctor— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) June 7, 2014
It's tough to take too much away from a match that was scoreless for 92 minutes, but to say that these teams weren't focused on the final score line would be an understatement. The World Cup is a week away, so the focus is much more on building form and confidence than anything—which best happens through scoring goals, but I digress.
Regardless of Mexico's loss on the score line, they really were in control for much of the second half and if they had put away a quarter of their quality chances, they would have won easily. To add onto that, it came against one of the world's best national teams that features a number of elite players with or without Ronaldo in the fold.
Herrera confirmed in his post-game comments that the lineups would look familiar in their World Cup opener, per Fox Soccer's Kyle McCarthy:
Miguel Herrera: "A high percentage of the players who played today will play against Cameroon."— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) June 7, 2014
Below are grades for every player who saw the pitch.
|Giovani dos Santos||B|
Steven Cook's grades
Steven Cook's grades
Mexico can now get ready to hop on a plane and head to Brazil as their World Cup send-off friendlies are over with. Their next match is the big one—El Tri's World Cup opener against Cameroon on June 13.
Portugal aren't out of the woods yet, as they face the Republic of Ireland on June 10 before their showdown with Germany in Brazil on June 16. Regardless of the matchup with the Irish looming, all efforts for the Portuguese will revolve around getting Ronaldo healthy for Brazil.