Por­tu­gal vs Spain: A Clas­sic Match between Two Con­trast­ing Styles

Por­tu­gal vs Spain: A Clas­sic Match between Two Con­trast­ing Styles

🇪🇸 Read in Spanish

Hudl’s guest ana­lyst from the Eng­lish Foot­ball League breaks down the instant clas­sic World Cup match between Spain and Portugal.

How did both teams set up initially?

Spain start­ed with a 4 – 3-3 and employed their tra­di­tion­al pos­ses­sion-based game which yield­ed 58% of the ball in this match.

Por­tu­gal didn’t desire to press and were com­fort­able sit­ting in a deep 4 – 4-2 out of pos­ses­sion, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for the Span­ish mid­field to pen­e­trate the two banks of four.

After gain­ing pos­ses­sion, the Por­tuguese employed the counter-attack, while Spain revert­ed to a 4 – 2-3 – 1 with Isco and Sil­va drop­ping into the mid­field to con­gest the cen­tre of the pitch, which left Cos­ta alone up top as tar­get man.

The dif­fer­ence in styles

For much of the game Por­tu­gal relied on fast, aggres­sive coun­ter­at­tacks from deep.

Ronal­do, Guedes, and Bernar­do Sil­va had the pace and flair to threat­en Spain, and were the key out­lets as Por­tu­gal tran­si­tioned from their flat defen­sive shape. 

One of these ear­ly raids result­ed in Ronal­do win­ning an ear­ly penal­ty, and Spain were down a goal before they could set­tle into the match.

In con­trast, Spain were much more method­i­cal with the build up play; they con­trolled the ball for 58% of the match and were forced to try and probe their way through Portugal’s deep 4 – 4-2.

The intri­ca­cy of Spain’s pass­ing and move­ments was most impres­sive. As they pro­gressed up the pitch, a con­stant­ly evolv­ing pat­tern of dia­monds and tri­an­gles ensured that the play­er in pos­ses­sion of the ball always had 2, if not, 3 pass­ing options. Keep­ing the ball became easy. 

Working off the ball: Spain always manage to have options available to receive the ball in space.

Spain com­plet­ed 754 pass­es in the match, com­pared to Portugal’s 377 over 90 min­utes. Both teams had an almost iden­ti­cal amount of pos­ses­sions: Por­tu­gal (165), Spain (161). How­ev­er, Spain com­plet­ed on aver­age twice as many pass­es per pos­ses­sion, high­light­ing the patience of their build up play.

From our Sports­code out­put win­dow we can see the key peri­ods where Por­tu­gal gen­er­at­ed momen­tum were right at the start of the match and at the end of each half. These peri­ods of momen­tum coin­cid­ed with each goal of Ronaldo’s hat trick, (goals scored in min­utes 4, 44 and 88).

Our Sportscode output window highlights key passing stats and periods of momentum at the end of each half where Portugal's counter attacks translated into goals.

Spain’s move­ment through the midfield

Spain were very clever with their move­ments as play pro­gressed through the mid­field third.

On sev­er­al occa­sions, Isco, Ini­es­ta, and Bus­quets would pull out to the full­back posi­tion in an attempt to try and draw a Por­tuguese mid­field­er out of shape and open up the pass­ing lane for a cen­tre back to play direct to the front man or attack­ing midfielder.

The direct route to Costa led to Spain's first goal. Here we can see Busquets pulling his marker to open space centrally.
The same method applied to free up space for Pique to pass from central defence.

Star play­er — Cris­tiano Ronaldo

Portugal’s tal­is­man pro­duced anoth­er out­stand­ing per­for­mance on the inter­na­tion­al stage. With Por­tu­gal play­ing on the counter, Ronaldo’s accu­ra­cy in pass­ing and cre­ative touch­es allowed hope­ful long balls to be trans­formed into gen­uine counter-attack­ing opportunities.

No longer the pure attack­ing winger from his Man­ches­ter Unit­ed days, Ronal­do dis­played abil­i­ties to play the false nine posi­tion by drop­ping into the mid­field and becom­ing part of the build up play. His three goal tal­ly and pass accu­ra­cy of 94% is indica­tive of per­for­mance where he act­ed not only a preda­tor, but a facil­i­ta­tor also.

Ronaldo exhibited a true captain's performance in this encounter.

Post-match review

Essen­tial­ly the class of Ronal­do kept this match a draw, which is prob­a­bly a fair result giv­en the moments of qual­i­ty exhib­it­ed on both sides. 

For Por­tu­gal, the counter-attack reaped rewards, but they must note the ener­gy cost for the play­ers involved. 

Portugal’s mid­field­ers were required to get up the pitch quick­ly to sup­port the attack, but also recov­er with urgency should pos­ses­sion turn over. 

As the game rolled on, the high ener­gy demand placed more and more strain on Portugal’s mid­field, with two goals being con­ced­ed in three min­utes mid way through the sec­ond half. 

It was not until around the 70th minute that Fer­nan­do San­tos refreshed his wide play­ers by send­ing on Quares­ma and Joao Mario for the fatigued Bernar­do Sil­va and Bruno Fernandes.

Por­tu­gal did not con­cede again after these sub­sti­tu­tions were made.

While not the worst result for Spain, it’s inter­est­ing that the nature of their goals were not tra­di­tion­al Span­ish efforts. Diego Cos­ta was the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of long ball and a knock-down for his two strikes, while Nacho’s won­der strike could not have been predicted.

Fer­nan­do Hier­ro might look at how his team can con­vert their size­able pos­ses­sion advan­tage into more goalscor­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. This is espe­cial­ly cru­cial con­sid­er­ing both Moroc­co and Iran are like­ly to sit back in the same fash­ion Por­tu­gal did in this match.