THE Confederations Cup continues on Wednesday and we asked international football analyst Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for his thoughts on the Group A conclude between New Zealand and Portugal.
New Zealand v Portugal | Saturday 16:00 | ITV
Portugal require a solitary point to secure a semi-final berth at the Confederations Cup and the European champions should have no trouble collecting against out of contention outsiders New Zealand.
Hosts Russia could still qualify at the expense of either Mexico or Portugal, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s country are expected to cruise past the All Whites and seal top spot in Group A.
New Zealand cause Mexico problems
New Zealand manager Anthony Hudson described his team as being “devastated” by their 2-0 opening loss against Russia. The All Whites believed they could get a result against the hosts, but more than anything that they’d failed to turn up in what should’ve been the easiest game in the group.
But the Kiwis showed a different and altogether more positive face on Wednesday against Mexico. Sure, El Tri were poor, but that was partly because New Zealand pressed intelligently, were comfortable in possession and the dynamic between the classic big and little forward duo of Chris Wood and Marco Rojas showed consistent promise.
Wood ended the nation’s mammoth 555-minute Confederations Cup scoring drought in an impressive first-half display. However, the All Whites should have gone on to score two or three more with their adventurous 5-3-2 formation causing the CONCACAF champions plenty of problems.
Mexico never looked comfortable and by half-time had faced more shorts and on-target efforts than the Kiwis whilst also carving out fewer goalscoring opportunities. Although they improved after a tactical interval switch, the All Whites continued to threaten; Ryan Thomas hit the woodwork with five minutes to play to deny New Zealand a famous point.
Highly-rated Hudson has built a young and energetic squad that’s built to cause a nuisance for opposition outfits. Although New Zealand are out of the competition, they’re unlikely to go quietly, even if they’re severely lacking in quality compared to their competition rivals.
Against Mexico the defence again appeared vulnerable and the All Whites struggled to contain El Tri down the flanks. It’s an obvious cause for concern for a side that’s failed to beat a European nation in nearly eight years.
Indeed, New Zealand haven’t beaten a side from outside of the Oceania region since they won 1-0 against Saudi Arabia in a friendly in September 2013 and their only victories since 2010 against non-Oceania opposition have come against the Saudis, Oman, and Honduras.
Portugal to ring the changes
Portugal’s head coach Fernando Santos is conservative by nature and will have watched-on with interest as Mexico struggled to deal with New Zealand’s all-action style. But the Selecao supremo is still expected to rotate his squad with knockout football all but secured already.
Left-back Raphael Guerreiro is unlikely to feature after picking up an injury in their 1-0 win over hosts Russia last time out. Eliseu is favourite to deputise whilst captain Cristiano Ronaldo seems very likely to be given a rest.
New AC Milan signing Andre Silva is likely to deputise, and the likes of Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Bernardo Silva make for an excellent supporting cast for this St Petersburg showdown.
The betting angle
Portugal have steadily improved and having carelessly conceded a late equaliser against Mexico in their curtain-raising 2-2 draw, the Euro 2016 winners tightened up against Russia and simply have too much in the tank for New Zealand.
The Iberians have led at half-time and full-time in six of their last seven competitive outings and quickly got into their stride against Russia with Ronaldo scoring the only goal of the game inside 10 minutes.
Another fast start is fancied but prohibitively short prices restrict our opportunities to punt the Half-Time/Full-Time angle. So instead, back Portugal to Win Both Halves at a more than fair 19/20 (BetStars).
New Zealand v Portugal – Portugal to win both halves (19/20 BetStars)