Friday, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the Portuguese National Football Team beat its opposite from Mexico 1-0 in a very competitive friendly tune up a week from World Cup 2014 in Brazil. The Europeans were playing without their still recovering superstar Cristiano Ronaldo who did not even suit up. Also absent were defensive stalwart and Real Madrid starter Pepe, midfielder Raul Meireles, and starting goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Mexico seemed a team that has reached a level of functionality that was missing all of last year. Players from both the domestic and European leagues seemed to be jelling as a unit and the manner of passing tonight seemed confident and purposeful. Some defensive lapses, particular in central defense, must be troubling to coach Miguel Herrera, but mostly the team is reaching a peak at the right time.
The game had the intensity of teams intent on wanting to go to Brazil with a win under their belts and players focused on what they saw as a last chance to impress. The pace and power of the play resulted in five yellow cards and quite a few others could have been awarded.
The Mexicans, playing increasingly with what seems most of their starting line-up, controlled possession both halves yet did not manage to have the better scoring chances. Their midfield and offense took the initiative in the game but Portugal's defense held and their counterattacking produced the better scoring chances.
Portugal, making plenty of substitutions and playing in their next to last tune up, seemed content to let the Mexicans dictate the pace and wait them out in the last third of the field before putting on the breaks. Then, they would counter quickly, usually down the middle no matter who was playing striker.
Mexico, used a controlled and constant pressure on the Portuguese side of the field and then a similarly thoughtful attack that relied on intricate midfield passing rather than on the streaking runs of Giovanni dos Santos or Chicharito Hernandez. Not that they did not have their moments on the wings but that the offensive emphasis seemed to be the middle of the pitch.
Of note was Fabio Coentrao playing in midfield and dos Santos starting at all after such a long spell in his coach's doghouse. Also noteworthy was the goalkeeping of Eduardo who saved all of Mexico's real goal scoring chances, giving his team a chance to hang in with their counter-strategy until the final moment when the game was decided.
In the end it was Portuguese coach, Paulo Bento's strategy (or objective) that won out as Bruno Alves' booming header at the 3rd minute of stoppage time (93') was the game winner.