Moreno's header saves Mexico on a mixed day for Ronaldo, Chicharito
KAZAN, Russia -- Three thoughts on Portugal and Mexico's 2-2 draw in Group B of the Confederations Cup.
1. Mexico strike late to deny Portugal
A late Hector Moreno header salvaged a 2-2 tie for Mexico as El Tri twice came from behind to in each team's Group A opener.
Ricardo Quaresma had put Portugal head in the 34th minute, before Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez leveled three minutes before half-time and the sequence repeated itself in the second period, with Cedric Soares netting in the 86th only for Moreno to level one minute into injury time.
Overall a point each was a fair result. Mexico dominated possession, with 61 percent over the 90 minutes, but it was Portuguese who looked to have more punch. The first goal was an example of that and showcased a moment of brilliance from Ronaldo.
The Real Madrid forward, who had been surrounded by speculation over his future leading into the game, controlled a long cross-field pass that caught out Mexico defender Carlos Salcedo, then burst into the box. After turning around and with his options seeming to have run out, Ronaldo slipped the ball past a sleeping Mexico defense to gift Quaresma the opener.
Until then, Mexico had arguably been the better team; an aggressive press, intensity and very high defensive line was bold and a statement of intent from coach Juan Carlos Osorio. The team from CONCACAF had enjoyed almost 70 percent of possession against the European champions, but hadn't threatened the goal.
But while Mexico had control, Portugal had the better moments. Before Quaresma's goal, Ronaldo hit the bar and Pepe thought he'd netted the opener in the 21st minute, but the video assistant referee (VAR) was disallowed the strike for offside. There was later some doubt -- and general confusion -- over Soares' goal, which ultimately stood.
But a year to the day on from a 7-0 capitulation against Chile in the Copa America Centenario, Mexico responded in its first game since against a team in the top 10 in the FIFA rankings.
Carlos Vela crossed for Hernandez to finish from close range after an error from Raphael Guerreiro and the goal gave Mexico the jolt of confidence it badly needed, with the game on the verge of slipping away and Ronaldo looking in a menacing mood.
The second half started as if both teams were taking a slight breather before building up for the finish and, after that initial lull, the crowd of 34,372 urged the teams on and the game became increasingly open.
Neither team was dominant but it was Portugal who edged ahead when a deflected shot from Soares beat Guillermo Ochoa. Defeat would've been a cruel result for a Mexico team that fought well, but then came Moreno's fine header.
After seeing Russia defeat New Zealand on Saturday's Confederations Cup opener, Portugal and Mexico will be confident of securing six points from their remaining two games and being involved in the semifinals.
2. Ronaldo isolated as Portugal's supporting cast falls flat
Coach Fernando Santos will want to see more from those around Ronaldo, who sparkled intermittently, especially on Portugal's opener. The exception to that rule was Quaresma, who regularly looked dangerous in the fluid Portuguese forward line.
It isn't like Santos doesn't have options. Gelson Martins added an element of vibrancy and flair that had previously been missing when he came off the bench in the 58th minute, while new Manchester City signing Bernardo Silva wasn't used and Andre Gomes was quiet, as was Nani. Striker Andre Silva was surprisingly left out of the starting XI.
Santos has plenty to think about. While Sunday's performance was by no means a disaster -- Portugal drew all three group games on the way to winning Euro 2016 -- he'll want those around Ronaldo to be more supportive of the superstar.
3. Mixed day for Chicharito
Hernandez started in an unfamiliar role. The idea was that center-forward Raul Jimenez would drop deeper to receive the ball, leaving space in behind the Portuguese defense for Hernandez to exploit. Miguel Layun was given the responsibility of overlapping from full-back.
Juan Carlos Osorio's experiment worked, especially in the first 45 minutes. Portugal didn't look entirely comfortable defending the unorthodox position and Hernandez could have scored three in the last seven minutes of the first half.
The first was the type of opportunity that he normally puts away with ease. After a give and go down the right, Hernandez flashed a header towards goal in the 38th minute, but it was straight at Rui Patricio.
After his well-taken goal Hernandez missed another golden chance. Vela combined with Raul Jimenez, who laid off the ball to an onrushing Hernandez. With the goal gaping, though, he blasted the ball high over the bar.
Elsewhere for Mexico, there were good displays from Jonathan dos Santos, Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado in midfield, as well as from Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno and Ochoa, who produced a smart save in the 85th minute to deny Andre Silva and keep things level. Vela showed glimpses of what he can bring in these big matches, while Carlos Salcedo had an afternoon to forget.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.