10 minutes of magic see Portugal cruise past Hungary

Ronaldo Portugal Euro 2020

Group F’s opener between Hungary and Portugal was very much a tale of two halves. While the first was a bit of a stalemate, the screw got turned after the break. Cristiano Ronaldo broke more records as the defending champions finally turned up in crunch time to secure a 3-0 win.

The Portuguese have built a bit of a reputation for slow starts at major tournaments. Dropping points in their last two opening games, it was vital for A Seleção to get off to a good start at Euro 2020.

Playing Hungary in front of a packed house at the Puskas Arena in Budapest was always going to be tough. But over the course of the game, it only ever looked like there will be one winner. In the end, Ronaldo and co. simply had too much for the Magyars.

After a relatively quiet 86 minutes, Ronaldo finally arrived at the party once his team was 1-0 up. After Raphael Guerreiro broke the deadlock, the 36-year-old scored a late brace to secure the points for A Seleção and become the top scorer in European Championships history.

Source: amNewYork

But despite Ronaldo’s amazing achievement, the unlikely hero and story of the game was the second-half introduction of Rafa Silva. The Benfica midfielder had a hand in all three goals after coming on in the 71st minute.

A tame first-half

There was not a lot to rave home about during the first 45-minutes in Budapest. The most impressive part of the frame was the crowd in attendance. Seeing over 60 thousand people in full voice in the stands was extremely refreshing and a sight to behold after the past 18 months.

In terms of football, Portugal were firmly in control, but it never got past some huffing and puffing.

Fernando Santos opted to go with two holding midfielders in spite of the plethora of attacking options at his disposal. With both Danilo and William Carvalho being defensive-minded, the Portuguese struggled mightily to progress the ball through the middle. This made it easier for the hosts to close down the spaces in the frequently occupied wide channels.

Hungary couldn’t create any chances of their own on the break, but Portugal ultimately couldn’t crack open the Magyar’s low block either. Diogo Jota came closest early on after picking up a loose ball and testing Peter Gulacsi from range. It was a good effort but certainly not the best Portugal could have gotten out of that chance. A wide-open Ronaldo was left very frustrated by Jota not spotting him to his left.

Better second-half

The defending champions continued to struggle in terms of big chance creation in the second half. Santos’ team selection was not proving the most favorable for his side and the Hungarians were gradually growing into the game.

Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes had most of Portugal’s standout moments before Santos finally decided to switch things up in the 71st minute. First, a neat Bruno corner delivery found the head of the rising Pepe who forced a good stop out of Gulacsi. Moments after, the ball finally found Bruno in a central position. The midfielder controlled it and took a quick lookup before firing a lovely low strike on goal that was palmed away by a diving Gulacsi.

Soon after, the hosts saw the ball nestle in the back of the net. Unfortunately for the battling Magyars, it was disallowed because of an offside in the build-up. But at that point, Santos had seen enough.

The Rafa Silva effect

In a swap of the Silva’s, Rafa replaced Bernardo and shortly thereafter, Portugal benefited.

The floodgates opened as the clock hit minute 84. Bruno found Rafa with a lovely ball into the right channel. Silva turned and delivered a quick, deflected cross towards the area which didn’t look all that dangerous until it did. The ball found its way into the feet of left-back Raphael Guerreiro who took an instinctive strike on goal which found the back of the net via a big deflection.

The Hungarians were visibly discouraged by going behind despite leaving it all out on the pitch. And things went from bad to worse very quickly.

Renato Sanches — also a second-half substitute — pulled the strings from midfield in the dying moments. The Lille midfielder first found Rafa’s run-in behind with a neat pass which led to the latter being pulled down inside the box — resulting in a spot-kick. A relatively quiet Ronaldo cooly converted to put the result beyond doubt.

But that wasn’t the end. The goal of the game was still to come deep into stoppage time. The marauding Sanches found the feet of Rafa with a sharp pass down the right-hand side yet again. The Benfica midfielder then turned to Ronaldo before exchanging a few beautiful one-touch passes which led to the third. Ronaldo stayed onside, rounded the keeper, and slotted home to put the game to bed and become the greatest scorer in the competition’s history.

It took a while but the defending champions arrived

It wasn’t a flawless performance by any stretch of the imagination. There are certainly a few things that the Portuguese could tweak going into games against France and Germany. Santos may very well tinker with his team selection too. But in the end, A Seleção got the job done.

The three points against the technically weakest opposition in the group were imperative and ultimately, the only thing that mattered.

Portugal put some style points on the board late on too. And hopefully, for Santos’ side, that’s all of the cobwebs shaken off before they face the last two world champions in game weeks two and three.

Author: Arion Armeniakos

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