Portugal 0-0 Ukraine: Stubborn Ukraine earn a point in Lisbon
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Portugal 0-0 Ukraine: Stubborn Ukraine earn a point in Lisbon

Cristiano Ronaldo & Portugal are blunted at the Estadio da Luz as a defensive masterclass from Ukraine earns the Yellow-Blue a point on opening night in Group B.

Craig King

Ukraine held firm to deny Portugal in Lisbon on Friday evening as Group B in UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying got underway in the Portuguese capital. The reigning European champions huffed and puffed but found no way past their steely, determined visitors.

The pre-match news was all about one man as Cristiano Ronaldo returned to international duty for the first time since the 2018 FIFA World Cup but not even he, the most capped player in Portugal's history and top goalscorer too, could find a way to to goal and three points.

Friday night belonged to Ukraine who were every bit worth the point they craved and at times they looked like they could snatch the win too. There is much work to be done for the Portuguese in their quest for automatic qualification after this stutter but thankfully for the team, and manager Fernando Santos, there is plenty of time to get A Selecao das Quinas back on track.

Story of the match

Portugal and Ukraine don't do defeats very often. Just one loss in their last twenty-eight competitive fixtures for the home side while Andriy Shevchenko's side had only been beaten in one of their last eleven competitive fixtures.

3,000 Ukraine fans made the trip to the city of seven hills for this match while a healthy home support also filled out the Estadio da Luz. Both sides full of confidence and supporters in fine voice too, there was a feeling that something had to give for one by the end of the ninety minutes in Portugal's largest city.

A quiet opening fifteen minutes to this contest that saw neither side threaten as the hosts controlled the ball. It took a set-piece to wake the crowd from their slumber as a corner kick from the left eventually found Pepe outside the box. He is a player known more for his play-acting than acrobatics but his brilliant effort forced a save from Andriy Pyatov that had the Luz purring.

That moment was the catalyst for the next as just a minute later the home side pushed on and thought they were in front. A cross into the box met by William Carvalho to nod into the goal only to be denied by the raising of the offside flag. The correct call but plenty of encouragement still.

Ukraine, while not seeing much of the ball, looked threatening when they did choose to drive forward. Yevhen Konoplyanka is one of many experienced heads in this side but his decision to shoot when presented with better options around him spurned the away side's first real look at Rui Patricio's goal.

The majority of this crowd were here for Cristiano Ronaldo and as ever, the Juventus frontman was keen not to disappoint. It took until just before the half-hour for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner to begin to influence the match. Twice in four minutes he was denied by Pyatov with the keeper making strong saves to keep him out.

As the first half came and went and the second half began, it was clear that this Ukraine side were an extremely tough nut to crack. They were defending with everything but they were defending extremely well. Anything that Portugal came at them with, it was repelled in the most appropriate fashion. This side doesn't do fancy, if the ball needed to be launched into the stands then so be it and it was working to a tee.

Portugal continued to probe but there was a real lack of ruthlessness in a side that usually is just that. There is a reason they haven't been kept from the scoresheet for nineteen home matches but on Friday evening, there was a lack of willingness to pull the trigger and really hurt Ukraine. There were many examples, especially from Joao Cancelo, of a good opportunity developing only for the final shot or cross to go horribly skyward.

As the game ticked to it's conclusion, it was Ukraine that began to believe they could snatch all the points. Junior Moraes only received his Ukrainian passport last week and he almost made himself an instant hero as Patricio, a bystander for much of the night, parried a shot into his path only for a crucial, fantastic tackle from Ruben Dias deflected his effort over the bar.

Carvalho, newly-capped Dyego Sousa and of course, Ronaldo, all passed up chances in the final minutes and the partisan home support were incensed when the referee opted not to award a penalty after a coming together in the box. A draw was the right result in the end and one that leaves the visitors as the much happier side on the night.


Defensive masterclass

Ukraine are known for being a typically dogged, difficult side to break down and it was no different tonight. They simply don't concede many goals and after this display it was easy to see why.

Andriy Shevchenko and his side keep the art of defending very simple. The objective is always to get the ball as far away from their penalty area as quickly as possible and it was effective. Every time Portugal won possession, Ukraine with incredible discipline would regroup into their shape and swarm any Portuguese attack. Any loose ball would be quickly mopped up and cleared up field.

On the occasions that Portugal did breach the Ukraine backline, Pyatov was a commanding presence in the goal to make an important save or claim the ball from the air and settle down his defence. It was a truly exceptional display in defending. Portugal, while not at their best, quickly ran out of ideas and every credit has to go to the Ukrainians for that.

No Ronaldo, no party

There can be no denying that Cristiano Ronaldo is a hugely important figure in this team but while it was true that Portugal used to be a one-man team, they have developed into a side full of really talented players that can thrive alongside Ronaldo rather than relying on him to drag them to results like so often was the case in years gone by.

Tonight though, it seemed like the home side relied too much on their main man again. Perhaps it was the frenzy that accompanied his return to the team after the World Cup but it seemed that Portugal were all to eager for Ronaldo to conjure some magic to find the breakthrough with CR7 only to happy to try and oblige, sometimes opting for glory himself rather than finding team-mates in better positions.

Everyone else really lacked the killer instinct or that initiative to take the game by the scruff of the neck. It seems telling, that one Andre Silva shot aside, it was only Ronaldo that really tested Pyatov in the match. This was a throwback to a Portugal side of a few years ago rather than the side of more recent times that had many contributors rather than just the one.

Standout players

The defensive backline of Ukraine and their goalkeeper all deserve a pat on the back for their performance. The display was one of real composure and concentration and they maintained it rather effortlessly for the ninety minutes, denying the current European champions and one of the greatest footballers to have ever played the game.

Konoplyanka, whenever Ukraine did break forward, was the player to drive them up the pitch and more than once he held the ball well and looked to create an opportunity for his team-mates. Moraes followed suit when he came on and provided a real spark of energy that gave Portugal something to think about.

Ronaldo was keen to make things happened and did force those two good saves from Pyatov while Pepe was a calming presence at the back. Rafa Silva and Sousa came off the bench and looked lively but did little to influence the game. 

It is far too early in the campaign, in a group set up like this one, for this result to be classed as damaging for the Portuguese but it will perhaps act as a wake-up call after home points were dropped. With a double-header against Serbia to come in this group by September, it could soon look very bleak if Portugal can't win the points on Monday night when the Serbians visit the capital.

It seems certain Ronaldo and co will have something to say about that though.