Portugal 6-2 Bosnia:Portugal Qualify For Euro 2012

Portugal convincingly beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 6-2 at the Estadio da Luz to book their place at Euro 2012. Both sides lined up pretty much the same they did as in the first leg on Saturday which ended 0-0, with Portugal in a 4-3-3 and Bosnia shaping up as a 4-2-3-1. The only player change was Sasa Papac coming in at left-back for Bosnia following suspension.

First half: robust Portugal race into lead

Though Cristiano Ronaldo had mused before the game that a better pitch would favour Portugal (presumably due to the passing ability of their midfielders), the hosts’ initial approach was quite direct. This could be because Portugal are currently lacking a Deco-type player to look for the final pass but in any case, Pepe’s long balls caused problems. Portugal did look more confident to play the ball through midfield after Ronaldo scored an 8th-minute free-kick.

It’s been noted by Zonal Marking that holding midfielder Medunjanin will sometimes drop into defence when Bosnia have the ball, allowing the left-back to scamper forward. This wasn’t seen so much tonight, as Portugal’s wide men pinned back the Bosnian full-backs – an example being Ronaldo winning the ball in the build up to Nani’s superb drive below.

It was looking like an uphill battle for Bosnia, and they weren’t competing well in midfield; while Lulic and Pjanic would come infield to create a numerical advantage, the passing wasn’t good enough to create anything. In particular, they could have done with better distribution from the deep-lying midfielders, whose sloppy passing almost led to a penalty (although Helder Postiga was judged to be diving by the referee). Misimovic played high up the pitch and didn’t have a tangible influence on proceedings.

The visitors’ only two chances came from Papac crosses. The first instance was when Lulic pulled out from the congested central zone and drew Nani away from the left-back who crossed for Dzeko, hitting the post with his header; Bosnia’s first attempt on goal, 35 minutes in. Papac’s second cross led to a penalty, converted by Misimovic, and somehow Bosnia were still in the contest at half-time.

Second half: red card and substitutions lead to a rout

Bosnia, buoyed by their goal late in the first half, looked to push higher up the pitch but were immediately punished by Ronaldo’s pace – the Real Madrid man latched onto João Moutinho’s excellent through ball to put Portugal 3-1 up. Things got worse for the visitors as Lulic was sent off for violent conduct on Pepe. It was a questionable decision, but more dubious officiating gave Bosnia a lifeline as captain Emir Spahic converting from a set-piece, despite looking suspiciously offside.

Dragons’ coach Safet Susic had taken off Elvir Rahimic for Darko Maletic, presumably to add a bit of drive to his midfield after Lulic’s red card. It was an understandable move, given his side needed to score to get through, but it was exploited brilliantly by Paulo Bento who sent on Ruben Micael for Miguel Veloso. Micael’s smart movement and slick passing brought fluidity to Portugal’s midfield, taking advantage of the holes left by Rahimic’s departure. The fact that the oposition were a man down should temper speculation that he might be “the answer” to Portugal’s inability to link midfield and attack but he played well, and it was no surprise that he set up Postiga for a fourth.

Two goals up and a man up, this was the perfect situation for Portugal’s neat and tidy midfield. To be fair to Bosnia, they still looked to play the ball out of defence, but this may have brought unnecessary pressure; after all, Edin Dzeko is an excellent target man and long balls to him could have been a viable outlet given the situation. Instead, Portugal were in cruise control and added to their tally; Veloso scoring a beautifully-placed free-kick before Postiga headed home a cross from the bright Fabio Coentrão. On that note, Bosnia were still failing to play with great width and the Portuguese full-backs were free to constantly join in with the attack, adding to their side’s dominance.

Portugal will be delighted at having negotiated tricky opposition with eventual ease and must still be considered a force at Euro 2012 if the likes of Nani and Ronaldo perform. Defensively they did fairly well, limiting Bosnia to just three attempts on goal apart from the penalty, and it will be interesting to see if Micael develops into a good link player further up the field. As for Bosnia, they will be bitterly disappointed at not qualifying having been so close last month in Paris, but were comprehensively outplayed against Portugal.

Ihsaan Budaly

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