FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal scored a stoppage time winner to defeat Mexico 1-0 in front of 56,292 at Gillette Stadium in a pre-World Cup international friendly on Friday night. A back and forth game saw Portugal control the first half and Mexico control the second only for Bruno Alves to head home a Joao Moutinho free kick against the run of play in the 93rd minute to give Portugal the win.
Portugal was without stars Ronaldo, Pepe, and Raul Meireles due to various injuries, but had the better of the play in the first half against a Mexican side that left Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez on the bench for the first half.
Portugal was using the match as preparation for Group G of the World Cup where they will be joined by the United States, Germany and Ghana.
“It’s going to be a balanced group with four strong teams,” said Portugal coach Paulo Bento. “It’s going to be very difficult for us, but we’ll fight until the end to make the knockout stage.”
After a slow start to the match, Portugal’s first chance came in the 14th minute through Vierinha. The 28-year old midfielder used a few step overs before finding some space around his defender and then firing a shot from a tight angle on the right side of the box that Mexico ‘keeper Jesus Corona could only tip wide for a corner kick.
Portugal threatened again six minutes later when Andre Almeida found Eder with a cross from the left flank. Eder, under pressure, directed a header towards goal, but his effort was wide of the target.
Three minutes later Fabio Coentrao played Eder into the box with a great pass, but the 26 year old striker placed his shot too close to Corona and the Mexican ‘keeper was able to make the save.
Mexico then threatened in the 31st minute when a Miguel Layun cross came dangerously close to sneaking in at the back post and forced Portugal ‘keeper Eduardo to tip it wide.
Eder was back in the thick of the action in the 38th minute again after a fantastic build-up from Almeida and Vieirinha that ended with Vieirinha one-timing a backheel to Eder at the edge of the box. Eder attempted a low shot, but missed wide of the target.
Seconds later Joao Pereira found a wide open Eder in the box with a cross from the right flank, but Eder couldn’t direct his header on target.
Mexico came out strong and set the tone to start the second half with several opportunities out of the break. With the pressure on Portugal’s backline, Héctor Herrera forced two blocked shots and Mexico forced a save from Eduardo before the ball was cleared.
But a couple minutes later it was Portugal on the attack and off a corner the ball fell to Coentrao on the edge of the six yard box. The Real Madrid left back got around his defender, but his shot from close range was too close to substitute ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who got down to make the save.
Andres Guardado finally got in on the action for Mexico in the 55th minute, with an effort from just outside the box that looked to have Eduardo beat, but was just wide of the far post.
Substitute Javier Hernandez nearly sparked an attack minutes after coming off the bench when he found Hector Herrera on the right side of the box with a well-placed cross. Herrera had space for a strong shot, but Eduardo made a fantastic save to keep the game scoreless.
Hernadez again provided a spark in the 68th minute with a run at defenders at the top of the box. A Portuguese defender slid in to knock the ball away, but it fell right to Herrera who blasted a shot on frame that forced an impressive save from Eduardo.
Portugal then got back on the attack in the 73rd minute, but Eder’s open header from just beyond the penalty spot off a Pereira cross couldn’t beat Ochoa.
Mexico nearly grabbed a late goal in the 89th minute when Hernandez played substitute Alan Pulido behind the defense, beating the offside trap. Pulido ran in on goal, but Eduardo was again the hero, rushing out to block the shot.
Just when Portugal looked headed for their second straight scoreless draw, Alves scored the late stoppage time winner. A well placed free kick from Moutinho found Alves, who directed a powerful header into the lower corner past Ochoa to give Portugal the win.
Portugal finish up their pre-World Cup slate with a match against Ireland on June 10th, while Mexico, who had won their previous two World Cup prep matches, kick off the World Cup against Cameron on June 13th.