Brazil-bound Portugal expose tired Ireland in New Jersey
Martin O’Neill’s side ship five goals in season finale
James McClean of the Republic of Ireland challenges Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal during the friendly international at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Portugal 5 Republic of Ireland 1: Cristiano Ronaldo confirmed his return to fitness as Portugal completed their World Cup preparations with a comfortable victory over the Republic of Ireland in New Jersey on Tuesday night.
The Portuguese captain, who had missed the earlier warm-up games against Greece and Mexico through a combination of knee and thigh injuries, started at the MetLife Stadium and played a leading role as his side raced into a 3-0 lead on their way to a 5-1 win.
Ronaldo had a hand in the third goal, having earlier hit the post with a free-kick, and showed few signs of being hampered by any fitness concerns.
However, it was striker Hugo Almeida who took centre-stage, heading Portugal into a second-minute lead and, after Richard Keogh’s own goal had put them further ahead, claiming a second eight minutes before the interval.
James McClean’s first strike for his country on his 23rd senior appearance gave Ireland hope seven minutes after the break, but substitute Vierinha struck 12 minutes from time and Fabio Coentrao added a fifth as newcomer Nani produced a superb late cameo performance.
While Portugal boss Paulo Bento included his highest-profile player for obvious reasons, opposite number Martin O’Neill left his sitting on the bench having hinted that he might in his pre-match press conference when he said he knew all he needed to about Robbie Keane.
Eight days short of 20 years since Ireland famously defeated Italy 1-0 in the World Cup finals at the old Giants Stadium, a team which included only a handful of regular starters ran out hoping to spring a similar surprise, if in different circumstances.
However, the game was over as a contest long before the half-time whistle as the Portuguese flexed their muscle in impressive style.
They needed barely two minutes to get their noses in front when winger Varela, in what was to become something of a theme, found himself in space down the right and delivered the perfect cross for unmarked striker Almeida to head firmly past goalkeeper David Forde.
But he tested Forde further with a left-footed drive 13 minutes later, and the Millwall goalkeeper reacted superbly to deny Raul Meireles from the follow-up.
Ronaldo was warming to his task, although clearly unhappy with the playing surface after slipping on more than one occasion, and McClean could have been forgiven for thinking he had done just that with 18 minutes played when the Portugal captain hit the deck after the merest of contacts.
The Real Madrid star dusted himself down and curled the resulting free-kick around the wall and past Forde’s dive, only for the foot of the post to intervene.
The respite was only temporary, however, and Ireland fell further behind when full back Coentrao’s cross clipped the unfortunate Keogh and sailed over the stranded Forde’s head before dropping inside the far post.
But Portugal were cruising with playmaker William Carvalho orchestrating from the middle of the field and Varela terrorising on the right as Ronaldo floated menacingly ahead of them.
They increased their lead eight minutes before the break when Forde could only parry Ronaldo’s header from yet another Varela cross to Almeida, who made no mistake from close range.
Bento resisted the temptation to remove his star man from the fray at the break, but Ireland made a better fist of it in the early stages of the second half as wingers McClean and Aiden McGeady found themselves in advanced positions on several occasions.
They got their reward seven minutes into the half when Wes Hoolahan played a quick free-kick to McClean on the right side of the penalty area, and he stepped inside before dispatching a low left-footed shot past Patricio.
Portugal’s response was concerted and, having wasted one free-kick by thumping it straight into the defensive wall, Ronaldo forced Forde into a diving save with a second on 57 minutes.
Varela could have wrapped up the win had he been able to collect Ronaldo’s return pass after the pair launched a lightning break-out, but substitutes Nani and Vierinha combined in fine style on 78 minutes, and the former set up Coentrao for an exquisite fifth five minutes later as Ireland wilted.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: D Forde; S Kelly (S Cox, 75 mins), R Keogh, A Pearce, S Ward (S Quinn, 67 mins); J McClean (A Pilkington, 67 mins), J Hendrick, D Meyler, A McGeady (K Doyle, 76 mins); W Hoolahan (R Keane, 64 mins); J Walters (S Long, 63 mins). Subs not used: Elliot, Duffy, Green, Lawlor. Booked: McClean,Pearce
PORTUGAL: R Patricio; L Neto (Pepe, 65 mins), R Costa, F Coentrao; W Carvalho; R Meireles (A Almeida, 66 mins), J Moutinho; S Varela (Vieirinha, 73 mins), R Amorim (M Veleso, 81 mins) , C Ronaldo (Nani, 65 mins); H Almeida (H Postiga, 67 mins). Subs not used: Eduardo, B Alves, Eder, Rafa, Joao Pereira, Beto.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo (USA)