THE Confederations Cup kicks-off this weekend and we asked international football analyst Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for his thoughts on the Group A encounter between Portugal and Mexico.
Portugal v Mexico | Sunday 16:00 | ITV4
European champions Portugal meet CONCACAF Cup winners Mexico in Kazan on Sunday in what promises to be a fascinating fixture from Group A of the Confederations Cup.
Portugal were touted as one of the least deserving winners of a major international tournament last summer as they stumbled to Euro 2016 glory, winning just once in the regulation 90 minutes.
But Fernando Santos’ side have claimed seven wins (W7-D0-L2) in their nine outings since lifting the trophy in Paris, notching at least three goals in all seven triumphs, to be marked out as pre-tournament favourites.
The former Greece coach has signalled his intent by naming a full-strength squad and the boss reaffirmed his position when arriving in Russia, saying “We came here with the natural ambition of a team that wants to win the tournament.”
Portugal unlikely to change approach
Cristiano Ronaldo will undoubtedly play a pivotal role if the Selecao are to be successful this summer and although the Portuguese squad appears stronger than 12 months ago, we shouldn’t expect a different approach from the Europeans.
Santos built a team based on a solid defence, dourly effective midfield, counter-attacking class and Ronaldo’s match-winning ability in attack. The emergence of Andre Silva provides Portugal with a much-needed focal point up front but they remain almost workmanlike in a narrow midfield set-up.
Bernardo Silva hasn’t been given the opportunity to make an impact just yet with Santos obsessed with covering for an ageing defence that’s vulnerable to pace. Pepe’s fitness remains doubtful meaning Jose Fonte will partner either Bruno Alves or Neto at centre-half – that’s hardly formidable.
The Iberians have had little issue with crushing lesser sides in World Cup qualifying and their W22-D10-L4 return from competitive clashes since Euro 2012 marks them out as a devilishly difficult side to beat; I’m just not too keen to get involved on 23/20 (BetStars) quotes.
Mexico finding their feet
Mexico may have been held at home by the United States in World Cup qualifying on Sunday night but El Tri remain on course to qualify with room to spare as Juan Carlos Osorio’s reign continues on an upwards trajectory.
The Central Americans have suffered only two defeats in 36 and under Osorio’s watch a sole competitive reverse – that came against Chile and was a bewildering 7-0 hammering at the Copa America last summer.
But that shocking loss was a watershed moment and Mexico have gone from strength-to-strength since. An W8-D2-L1 return in the following 11 outings has breathed confidence back into El Tri’s ranks and whilst it’s true, victories over USA and Chile are the only standout success in aforementioned 36-game sample, improvements have been made on and off the pitch.
Players have spoken about the tight bond in the group despite Osorio’s preference for rotation and the head coach’s love for structure and versatility has also installed a bit of steel into the squad. Mexico still enjoy possession and boast plentiful options in attack and midfield but they’re also capable of shutting down opposition sides.
The betting angles
The 1999 winners have shipped just seven goals in 13 games and are a technically gifted outfit that shouldn’t be written off. Quotes of 61/20 (Marathon) are probably fair enough for Sunday’s contest but the draw is arguably the standout selection at 12/5 (Bet365).
I’m not a comfortable draw-backer so I’m looking elsewhere for my angle of attack and 11/8 (888) on Ronaldo scoring just can’t be ignored. The Real Madrid man has notched 12 Portugal goals in his past six appearances and has netted 16 in his last 10 matches for club and country.
Elsewhere, Both Teams To Score (42/41 888) looks generous at odds-against. Both nations are best-equipped in forward areas with any weaknesses likely to arrive at the back.