Fábio Coentrão Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Cropped/Ludovic Péron

Fábio Coentrão Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Cropped/Ludovic Péron

The Seleção came back from a two goal deficit to claim a draw against Israel in World Cup 2014 qualifying on Friday. Wasteful possession and defensive mistakes again plagued Portugal, as they look ahead to Azerbaijan on Tuesday.

To make matters worse, Portugal will have to play without captain Cristiano Ronaldo after he picked up another yellow card in the second half. He did travel with the team to Baku after the match but did not train with the squad on Saturday, according to A Bola.

João Moutinho started in midfield despite battling a thigh injury, but he did not look his best. Central defender Pepe also made his return to the Portugal squad. Manchester United winger Nani was omitted from the squad because of a hamstring injury, Porto’s Silvestre Varela started in his place.

The match started brightly for the Seleção in the opening minutes of the match, when Bruno Alves scored off a Miguel Veloso corner. It was a perfect start for Paulo Bento’s team, as their opponents looks visibly winded from the start.

In the 24th minute, Israel pulled one back when the Portuguese defence failed to clear a dangerous cross into the box. Israeli striker Tomer Hemed struck it past Patricio for the equalizer. This quickly swung momentum back to the home side.

Israel was again rewarded in the 40th minute, when Hemed broke through the Portuguese defence and delivered a pass to Eden Ben Basat for who struck a hard shot straight into the back of the net.

The Portuguese side were in a very familiar position in this qualifying campaign, trailing at the half. With no changes at half-time, Portugal came out of the dugout with a sense of urgency and desperation. Cristiano Ronaldo and Fábio Coentrão, especially began to come into the match, and pressed the Israeli back line.

In the 60th minute, Bento substituted Silvestre Varela and Miguel Veloso in favour of Vieirinha and Carlos Martins. But it was israeli who struck again. In the 70th minute, Rami Gershon scored off a corner for the home side putting Israel on the verge of the biggest win of the country’s sports history.

The Seleção, looking increasingly frustrated were in desperate need of a spark. And they got it from the likeliest of sources. Moments later, Cristiano Ronaldo broke away from the Israeli defence and delivered a pass to Helder Postiga who scored to put Portugal within a goal.

Bento would soon bring on Hugo Almeida to further press the Israeli defence. After hitting the top of the crossbar only minutes before, Fábio Coentrão took advantage of a loose ball inside the box and slotted it home for the tying goal in injury time. Portugal escaped with a draw. It was a fitting end to the match for Coentrão who was Portugal’s best player going forward for most of the match.

After the match, manager Paulo Bento admitted that the team lacked intensity. “The goal two minutes in should have given us confidence but instead it hurt us. We did not show an intensity in our game, we were not aggressive defensively and we gave up two goals as a result,” he told RTP television.

“Without playing particularly well, and like in previous matches, we did enough to win in terms of chances on goal. There is something that is lacking in terms of efficiency. We scored few goals in terms of the number of opportunities we had. Israel practically had three shots and scored three goals,” Bento added.

“It is not a question of attitude and desire, but of mentality. I have already told tha players this. Our mentality is difficult to change.”

Real Madrid defender Pepe spoke about the club’s defensive problems after the match. “The problem was not just the defensive aspect. The work is collective and we are not working in the best way possible. We faced a team that plays a complicated system. We left space in between the centre-backs and full-backs, but we have to learn from the mistakes we made so they don’t happen in the next match.”

“I belong to the seleção portuguesa and I want to reach the World Cup. We are going to do everything to get there. Now we have to learn from our mistakes, we will try to take full advantage of every opportunity so we do not create the same mistakes,” Pepe added.

The draw means that Russia is all but assured top spot in group F, and therefore automatic qualification for World Cup 2014. Though, not all is lost for Portugal they remain even in terms of points with Israel with 5 matches left to play. The top 8 second-place finishers will qualify for a play-off.

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