France 2-1 Portugal
Euro 2016 hosts France proved too strong for a new look Portugal squad tonight at the Stade de France in Paris. Karim Benzema opened the scoring and Paul Pogba doubled the advantage in the second half. Ricardo Quaresma answered from the penalty spot with his fourth international goal.
Fernando Santos' first squad included seven changes from the side that faced Albania, featuring Tiago in central midfield and newcomer Cédric at right back. Danny and Nani occupied the wings while Ronaldo was made Portugal's lone striker, a strategy also employed by Carlos Quieroz during his tenure.
If Santos was looking for a test of his proposed schemes, France were more than willing to provide it. During the first half, the French asked plenty of questions of Portugal's defence, particularly down the flanks.
The hosts pressed early and found the opener after just three minutes through Karim Benzema. Antoine Griezmann burst free down the left and crossed the ball along the top of the penalty area to Bacary Sagna who dispatched a fierce effort on goal that Rui Patrico did well to save. Unfortunately, Benzema was in the right spot at the right time to score his 25th international goal for France.
Griezmann continued to torment the Portuguese defence, testing Patrício with another shot in the 7th minute after being sent clear down the right wing. Cristiano Ronaldo's first meaningful contribution of the game, meanwhile, was to catch out the French defence with a quick throw in to Danny. Despite finding himself all alone in the French penalty area, the Zenit St. Petersburg playmaker's shot was a scuffed effort over the crossbar.
Just after the quarter hour mark, Pogba made his presence known by bursting down the right flank onto a neat throughball out of the defence that caught Eliseu too far upfield. Pogba's dangerous cross was just cleared with Benzema lurking.
Portugal had their best chance of the first half in the 21st minute when Nani stole onto a pass deep in the French half. The Sporting winger cut inside on his left foot and attempted a sneaky, controlled shot but the ball passed just the wrong side of the post. André Gomes made some space to shoot after a Portugal corner, but he too fluffed his lines, launching his shot over the crossbar.
Minutes later, Benzema burst through on goal after picking off a poor lateral pass from Eliseu. The Benfica fullback, to his credit, raced back to cut out the danger. Portugal managed to control the French attack through the end of the first half, but were unable to create decent chances themselves.
Second half revival
Portugal started the better of the two sides in the second half, and Ronaldo very nearly equalised with 51 minutes gone. Nani's excellent cross into the box was just the right height for Ronaldo, whose header was brilliantly saved by the French keeper. Portugal remained in control and substitute William Carvalho picked out Nani with a magnificent long ball that the winger chipped into the path of Danny. As in the first half, however, Danny completely botched his shot attempt and the French defence recovered.
Santos introduced Éder and Quaresma in the 67th to apply more pressure, but the French responded with yet another goal, this time from Juventus midfielder, Paul Pogba. Patrice Evra, not for the first time on the night, scampered away from Cédric and squared to Benzema who teed up Pogba to score France's second goal from the edge of the penalty area.
Minutes later, the hosts nearly made it three when Matuidi burst past João Moutinho, but his finish just missed the right hand corner of the net. Portugal tried to regain their composure, with Danny, Quaresma, and Ronaldo combined well in the 75th minute. Danny headed Quaresma's cross into the path of Ronaldo who once again was denied as his shot was deflected for a corner.
Quaresma initiates comeback
It was to be Ronaldo's final contribution in the match, with the Portugal captain making way for João Mário. Less than a minute later, the youngster won a somewhat dubious penalty after being clipped by Pogba at the edge of the eighteen. With Ronaldo substituted, Ricardo Quaresma confidently applied the finishing touch to score his first international goal in over six years.
Portugal created several more chances to score in quick succession with a Quaresma free kick deflected narrowly wide followed by a stinging effort from João Mário that flew over the crossbar.
But the French maintained their composure and held out for the victory. Though far from a finished product, Portugal did show improvement compared to the match against Albania. Tiago played well centrally, while Cédric, despite showing his inexperience against Evra at times, showed that he too may eventually be an upgrade to João Pereira. The Seleção spurned several decent chances to score along the way and will feel that on the balance of play they may have deserved more.
Portugal face current Group I leaders Denmark on Tuesday in an intriguing Euro 2016 qualifying match.
by Nathan Motz
Rui Patrício, Cedric, Pepe, Bruno Alves (Ricardo Carvalho, 46), Eliseu, André Gomes (William Carvalho, 46), Tiago (Éder, 68), João Moutinho, Nani (Quaresma, 68), Danny (Vieirinha, 85), Cristiano Ronaldo (João Mário, 76)
[1-0] Benzema, 3'
[2-0] Pogba, 69'
[2-1] Quaresma (pen), 77'