European champions Portugal meet New Zealand in St. Petersburg knowing that a draw will be good enough to guarantee a Confederations Cup semifinal spot. After an encouraging display against Mexico, the Kiwis are aiming for their first win at Russia 2017.
Portugal beat hosts Russia 1-0 in Moscow on Wednesday, putting them on four points in Group A, level with Mexico but behind on goals scored, following their 2-2 opening game draw against El Tri.
The top two teams go through to the semifinals, and with Russia playing Mexico in Kazan, also on Saturday, Fernando Santos’ team can reach the knockout stage by securing a draw against the All Whites.
Despite indications that Santos will rest Cristiano Ronaldo with one eye on the semifinals, Portugal should have enough talent in the team to overcome a much lower ranked New Zealand team.
Striker Andre Silva, 21, could start again, this time partnered by Nani, while 22-year-old winger Bernardo Silva could also feature from the start after impressing against Russia.
Although Russia pressed hard for an equalizer towards the end of the game at Spartak Stadium, Portugal for the most part looked untroubled and could have scored several more, had it not been for Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev.
New Zealand should not be underestimated, however, especially as they will be in confident mood on the back of their encouraging performance against Mexico in Sochi on Wednesday.
The All Whites led 1-0 going into half-time in that game thanks to striker Chris Wood’s 42-minute goal, and could have been further out of sight had Wood not spurned a one-on-one chance following the restart.
Although Mexico dragged themselves back into the game and scraped the win due to goals from Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta, the Kiwis almost leveled when midfielder Ryan Thomas rattled the crossbar in the closing stages.
All Whites boss Anthony Hudson was encouraged by his team’s performance, especially in the first half, and will likely ask for more of the same from his young team.
Portugal can expect to be pressed high up the pitch and not allowed time to settle by the Kiwis.
New Zealand – appearing at their fourth Tournament of Champions – have not won a Confederations Cup game in 11 attempts, and would love to claim the scalp of the European Champions to give them a boost going into key World Cup qualifiers later this year.
Portugal will be confident, but would do well not to take the All Whites too lightly.