Portugal player ratings as Jose Fonte stands tall and Cristiano Ronaldo has mixed night in Iran draw

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Cristiano Ronaldo missed a second-half penalty but Ricardo Quaresma’s wonder goal was enough to ultimately earn Portugal a 1-1 draw against Iran to make World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

Quaresma, 34, produced a trademark curled ‘trivela’ strike on the stroke of half-time to gain the lead in this feisty contest.

Ronaldo endured a mixed night with the Video Assistant Referee. He saw a spot-kick saved after being belatedly awarded it for a foul by centre-back Morteza Pouraliganji, before later receiving a yellow card after apparently striking the same opponent.

VAR then punished Portugal right-back Cedric Soares for a handball. Karim Ansarifard’s subsequent 93rd-minute penalty came too deep into injury time for an Iran, who needed victory to make their knockouts bow.

The result saw Portugal finish second behind Spain in their pool. They’ll now meet Group A-winners Uruguay.

Here are the Portugal player ratings from Mordovia Arena:

PORTUGAL (4-4-2)

Rui Patricio – 6: Took a blow to the face in the first half when he bravely snuffed out a promising position for Iran. Couldn’t get near excellent penalty.

Cedric Soares – 6: Kept it simple before he was punished, probably harshly, for a handball under an aerial challenge by Iran striker Sardar Azmoun.

Pepe – 7: Even at 35-years old, the Besiktas centre-back is still so key. Surprisingly, kept his head when Iran, collectively, lost theirs.

Jose Fonte – 7: The Dalian Yifang defender was superb on the deck, beating Azmoun repeatedly to the ball. So comfortable at this level.

Raphael Guerreiro – 6: Exorcised the painful memories from his nightmare against Morocco. Alireza Jahanbakhsh is not easy to subdue.

Ricardo Quaresma – 7: A contender for goal of the tournament exploded off his right boot. But didn’t press his case further to remain in the starting line-up.

Adrien Silva – 7: The Leicester City centre midfielder filled in admirably for the ill Joao Moutinho. Wonderful flick added to Quaresma’s magic moment.

William Carvalho – 7: Was bypassed regularly by Morocco, but was back to his solid self against the Iranians. Rarely flustered.

Joao Mario – 5: Volleyed a presentable chance over in the first half. Was far too quiet and his spot in XI for knockouts can’t be certain.

Andre Silva – 6: The prolific scorer in qualifying, and surprise flop at AC Milan, did a lot of running for Ronaldo. Just about justified his start.

Cristiano Ronaldo – 5: Joined nemesis Lionel Messi in missing a penalty at World Cup 2018. Was otherwise fairly anonymous, apart from surviving VAR call for a potential blow on Pouraliganji.

SUBS

Bernardo Silva – 6: The Manchester City winger was given 20 minutes to make up for a dull start to the World Cup. Didn’t really get involved.

Joao Moutinho – N/A: Was well enough to see out the final moments.

Goncalo Guedes – N/A: Head coach Fernando Santos threw forward on in final throes to see down clock.

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Jorge Sampaoli must finally shape up for Argentina and other tactical battles against Nigeria

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Embattled Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli requires a moment of clarity and Nigeria must continue their winning run when Group D reaches a consequential crescendo at World Cup 2018.

Here are the key tactical battles ahead of this decisive contest at Saint Petersburg Stadium:

SAMPAOLI’S LATEST CHANGE OF SHAPE

Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli will feel a sense of relief that he’s been allowed this final shot at redemption.

The 58-year-old’s troubled opening year at the helm has taken a dark turn for the worse in Russia. An ill-suited 4-2-3-1 formation led to a dire 1-1 draw versus Iceland, while a misguided switch to a 3-4-2-1 contributed to the limp 3-0 loss against Croatia.

Leaks to the Argentine media now state that a 4-4-2 will be unleashed against the Super Eagles, with struggling Barcelona icon Lionel Messi partnered with Juventus centre forward Gonzalo Higuain.

This is the shape Messi used to title-winning effect at Barcelona in 2017/18. Sampaoli will pray it has the same impact.

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WILL NIGERIA ROHR FROM THE OFF?

A fourth slot in the round of 16 is within Nigeria’s grasp. The challenge for boss Gernot Rohr is to make sure it doesn’t slip away.

The 4-2-3-1 in Russia has brought a dull 2-0 defeat to Croatia and enlivening 2-0 victory against Iceland.

The German will earn his money by deciding whether to continue in the same vein, or face down Argentina’s star-studded – but misfiring – attack with a 3-5-2. A memorable, Alex Iwobi-inspired 4-2 friendly win was earned with this shape against La Albiceleste at the end of 2017.

Just a draw will do for Nigeria, but defence isn’t a strength. But they last kept a clean sheet in March’s 1-0 friendly win versus Poland.

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SUPER EAGLES SHOULD LET IWOBI FLY

Consistency is the missing ingredient at Arsenal and Nigeria for Alex Iwobi.

The nephew of former Super Eagles magician Jay-Jay Okocha started the opening loss to Croatia on the right wing, being hauled off after 62 forgettable minutes that contained three off-target attempts and one key pass. Rohr remembered this flop and restricted him to an insignificant 90th-minute cameo role against Iceland.

But if the tactician switches his mind back to the winter, sights of Iwobi getting a key double up top in a 3-5-2 against Argentina will flood his mind.

Being the centre of attention appears to bring out Iwobi’s best.

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Jorge Sampaoli and Lionel Messi feel the pressure, plus other Nigeria v Argentina talking points

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Judgement day awaits for Lionel Messi and Argentina as they attempt to salvage a chaotic World Cup 2018 campaign on Tuesday by making the knockouts in their final Group D-outing against Nigeria.

A ramshackle qualifying campaign has bled into La Albiceleste’s shoddy displays in Russia. An opening 1-1 draw with Iceland – in which Messi meekly missed a second-half penalty – and humiliating 3-0 defeat to Croatia that followed head coach Jorge Sampaoli’s disastrous selection has left the mutinous two-time winners requiring victory against the Super Eagles to stand any chance of progression.

Nigeria are two points ahead of 2014’s beaten finalists and in the second advancement spot. Leicester City-owned forward Ahmed Musa produced a brilliant brace to beat Iceland 2-0 last time out, meaning they’ll be full of confidence about their quest to earn a second-successive run into the round of 16.

Here are the talking points ahead of this anticipated clash at Saint Petersburg Stadium:

SAMPAOLI’S LAST STAND?

The knives were out for Sampaoli after Thursday’s debacle at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.

His perplexing tactical shake-up saw Messi go from essential to peripheral, further exposed a suspect defence within an ill-fitting 3-5-2 formation and witnessed the likes of supreme Sevilla centre midfielder Ever Banega perplexingly given the best seat in the house on the substitutes’ bench to watch the tragedy unfold.

Madness looked to have inflicted a mind – honed by the influential Marcelo Bielsa – which exhibited real genius to guide Chile to success at the 2015 Copa America, ahead of his native Argentina.

Rumours spread like wildfire in the aftermath that the disenchanted players wanted Sampaoli’s head. A firm show of support from Argentine Football Association president Claudio Tapia then allowed him to weather a frank team meeting, although rumours about who exactly is picking the team against Nigeria remain.

“The relationship with the coach is totally normal,” said veteran midfielder Javier Mascherano at a news conference in Moscow on Sunday. “Obviously, when we feel some discomfort or we see something, we express it to him because otherwise, we would be hypocrites.

“If you are uncomfortable with something on the pitch and don’t express it to the coach, are you going to play an uncomfortable game? You would be harming the team.”

Not exactly a ringing show of support.

Argentina must now coalesce for another wild change of direction.

Tuesday’s game will make it a trio of contrasting approaches utilised in Russia. This follows friction from the moment Sampaoli took over in May 2017 as he tried to apply his high-pressing, high-defensive line principles to a roster plainly unsuited.

Only victory now will do against African opposition they’ve defeated in all four previous meetings since 1994, but were well beaten by during November’s friendly. Even then, Iceland can spoil the party on goal difference if they beat qualified Croatia by the requisite result

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MUSA OR MESSI CAN COME TO THE FORE

It is not often that Barcelona icon Messi can feel a sense of envy towards CSKA Moscow loanee Musa.

The scoreless former has been crippled by constricting expectation and pressure in Russia. For the latter, unmitigated joy upon his opening 2018 start after his excellent weekend salvo against Iceland.

Intriguingly, 2014’s group-stage finale in Brazil saw the duo grab doubles in a 3-2 victory for Argentina that sent both combatants through to the knockouts. The stakes are much higher this time – winner-takes-all is the name of the game.

Messi reportedly barricaded himself away after the glaring Iceland error from 12 yards. Stress was etched across his face before the Croatia catastrophe.

Emotions that the 31-year-old does not have to deal with doing his legendary day job in Catalonia.

Musa’s loan return to Moscow has replenished energy banks depleted during a maudlin spell at Leicester City.

The Super Eagles will hope to benefit once again from this revitalisation. On current form, he seems far more likely to repeat 2014’s feats than the hallowed Messi.

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BANEGA GETS HIS MOMENT ON GLOBAL STAGE

An unlikely drought is set to end for Banega.

The Boca Juniors youth product who was tipped for greatness as a teenager is, at the age of 29, finally set to start at a World Cup.

He has experienced a mercurial career. High points have come in Copa America years, a competition in which he’s made eight starts since 2011.

Low points came with Diego Maradona’s surprising ignorance towards him in 2010, while a first Argentina goal during qualifiers for 2014 didn’t translate into a place in the final squad.

Banega’s tactical intelligence from centre midfield was glaringly absent versus Croatia. Vitally, it’ll be present from kick-off against Nigeria.

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