Bruno Alves, Portugal send Mexico off to Brazil with defeat
JUN 06, 2014 10:30p ET
Alves found himself unmarked inside the Mexico penalty area in the wake of Joao Moutinho’s inviting service and turned his header inside the near post to lift the Portuguese to victory in the 93rd minute.
The late winner settled a match that sparked to life after the interval. Mexico presented more of the problems on the night as Héctor Herrera and Alan Pulido forced Eduardo into fine stops after the break, but Alves’ header instead sent Portugal back to New Jersey with a positive result despite the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Raul Meireles through injury.
Mexico manager Miguel Herrera will place most of his focus on the positives after his side cobbled together an improved display after the 1-0 defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday. Herrera opted to play most of his projected starting XI for the World Cup opener against Cameroon next Friday and reaped the benefits. The performance – even with the late winner – offered plenty of reason for encouragement as El Tri warmed to the task after the break.
Herrera will now contemplate the information gathered in this match and ponder his choices as El Tri departs for Brazil and shifts its focus to the task at hand against the Indomitable Lions in Natal on June 13.
Mexico displayed the urgency Herrera craved from the outset as the chosen players – including Jesús Corona in goal, Andrés Guardado in midfield and Giovani dos Santos instead of Javier Hernández up front – sought to consolidate their place in the side ahead of their World Cup bow.
El Tri pressed earnestly at the outset and tried to win the ball in good areas with its 5-3-2 setup, while Portugal remained compact and looked to break quickly in its 4-2-3-1 shape. The contrast allowed both teams to procure their opportunities from time to time. Héctor Moreno poked home at the second attempt after two minutes only to see the assistant referee raise his flag correctly to rule it out. Neto then intervened shortly thereafter to cut out Paul Aguilar’s inviting cross from the right as Mexico tried to create an opening.
Portugal spent most of its time trying to play combinations between the lines and pull apart the back three. Eder loomed as the primary beneficiary from the interplay as he forced Corona to parry away his deflected effort after 22 minutes.
Miguel Layún nearly handed El Tri the lead just after the half-hour as his cross drifted toward the far post, but Eduardo recovered in time to push it around the post. Eder and Guardado both flashed their efforts wide of the far post in the waning stages as both teams eventually settled for parity heading into the interval.
The fare improved after play resumed as both teams produced chances inside the opening five minutes. Mexico assembled a sustained period of pressure and punctuated it when Herrera forced Eduardo into a save at the near post. Guillermo Ochoa – introduced at the interval to stoke the goalkeeping debate further – then produced a fine stop on Fabio Coentrao as Portugal attempted its response.
Hernández emerged off the bench shortly before the hour and wasted little time in his bid to wrest away a starting place from dos Santos. Chicharito embarked on a clever solo run on the left side of the penalty area and then presented Herrera with an opportunity at the far post. Herrera hit his effort well, but Eduardo turned it aside yet again to preserve parity.
Mexico continued to look the more likely of the two sides to score as the second half progressed, but the opportunities dwindled as the moments ticked away. Late substitute Pulido nearly nicked a winner at the death only to see Eduardo rush off his line again to block intelligently.
The save would ultimately pave the way for a Portuguese winner deep in stoppage time. Moutinho delivered an enticing ball toward the penalty area. Alves found himself in acres of space and twisted his header past the diving Ochoa to give Portugal a victory at the death and dash Mexico’s hopes of concluding its friendly slate with a positive result.