ST PETERSBURG (REUTERS) – European champions Portugal comfortably dispatched New Zealand 4-0 to reach the Confederations Cup semi-finals on Saturday (June 24) after Cristiano Ronaldo set them on their way with a penalty.
Portugal’s all-time leading scorer swept the ball home in the 33rd minute, his 75th goal for his country, and Bernardo Silva added the second four minutes later.
A solo effort from Andre Silva, his eighth goal in 11 appearances, in the 80th minute and a stoppage-time goal from substitute Nani completed the scoring.
It was a typically efficient performance from Portugal who never looked in real danger despite a sluggish start.
However, it was not all good news as Bernardo Silva went off injured at halftime, while a needless and reckless challenge from Pepe, with his side 2-0 up, earned the controversial central defender his second yellow card of the tournament, ruling him out of Wednesday’s semi-final.
“It was an odd game – we were in control, but they started creating problems, and if it had got back to 2-1, it could have got complicated,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who helped Unterhaching win promotion from the German fourth division last season, kept the score down with a superb second-half display.
The Oceania champions were far from disgraced but have now competed in the tournament four times without winning a game and have an overall record of 11 defeats and a draw in 12 matches.
Even so, coach Anthony Hudson was proud of his side, who refused to shut up shop in the second half.
“We know we’ve played some really good football at times. We never stopped. We created chances, we put them under pressure, so we could have got a little more out of this tournament,” he told reporters.
“This team are on the right path, they have got great character, great belief and it’s a young team moving in the right direction.”
Portugal topped Group A with seven points from three games, ahead of Mexico on goal difference after the CONCACAF champions beat hosts Russia 2-1. New Zealand finished bottom of the group after losing all three games.
Ronaldo had already headed against the crossbar before firing Portugal ahead after Danilo went tumbling under a challenge from two defenders and the referee pointed to the spot without asking for a video replay.
Bernardo Silva turned Eliseu’s low cross into the net four minutes later, although he suffered a knock on the ankle in the process.
Marinovic made impressive saves to deny Ronaldo, Andre Silva and Nani but was powerless stop Andre Silva when he collected the ball on the halfway line, ran at two defenders who backed off, and fired his shot into the far corner.
Nani completed the scoring with his 25th international goal.