Euro 2016: Battle of the hotshots

Robert Lewandowski (above) has fallen short of his own lofty standards and an erratic Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to score in four Euros.
Robert Lewandowski (left) has fallen short of his own lofty standards and an erratic Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to score in four Euros. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pressure on star duo Ronaldo, Lewandowski to hit peak form when the result matters most

QUARTER-FINAL 1

Poland v Portugal

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MARSEILLE - Two of Europe's most prolific marksmen go head-to-head as Robert Lewandowski aims to end Cristiano Ronaldo's dreams of landing an international trophy when Poland meet Portugal in the first Euro 2016 quarter-final clash today.

BACKING HIS PLAYERS

We'll always have a chance. We've got the best player in the world - Ronaldo - and the likes of Nani, Quaresma and Joao Mario.

JOSE FONTE, Portugal defender, on his team's ability to win a game.

 

READY FOR THE CHALLENGE

Not many people know how much commitment and effort are required, not just physical, but also mental.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI, Poland striker, on taking on the responsibility of being team captain.

  • Road to the quarter-finals

  • POLAND
    Poland reaching the last eight has been down to a robust defensive effort with their misfiring strikers posing little threat up front.

    Adam Nawalka's team have let in just one goal all tournament, an outrageous bicycle kick by Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri in their last-16 tie which the Poles eventually won on penalties.

    It was only the second game this year in which they have conceded. But at the other end, hitman Robert Lewandowski, the leading scorer in Euro 2016 qualifying with 13 goals, has only mustered two attempts on target in the tournament, both against the Swiss.

    Poland's captain did coolly dispatch the first penalty in the shoot-out though, and the scintillating form of Kamil Grosicki on the left flank should provide more chances for the striker to break his duck in open play.

    Poland, who have found the net three times in four matches, have scored two goals fewer than any of the other quarter-finalists.

  • PORTUGAL
    Portugal's campaign has centred around Cristiano Ronaldo who has been both hero and villain and often seems to be an overbearing presence on his team-mates.

    The Portuguese captain rescued them in their final group game against Hungary, scoring twice to earn a 3-3 draw. He also set up the late winner over Croatia in the second round.
    But his insistence on taking every free kick has caused them to waste precious attacking opportunities.

    The Portuguese have yet to put in a convincing performance and all four of their games have been tied after 90 minutes.

    Yet, with Nani showing flashes of inspiration, the unpredictable Ricardo Quaresma playing the joker's role and a very kind draw, they could yet go all the way to the final, just as coach Fernando Santos predicted.

    REUTERS

  • League goals scored in the past five seasons
    Robert Lewandowski (Poland, above)

    For BayernMunich
    2015-16:30
    2014-15: 17
    For BorussiaDortmund
    2013-14:20
    2012-13:24
    2011-12: 22
    Total: 113

    Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, above)
    For Real Madrid
    2015-16: 35
    2014-15:48
    2013-14: 31
    2012-13:34
    2011-12:46
    Total: 194
    At Euro 2016 so far
    Lewandowski 0
    Ronaldo 2

Ronaldo is just one goal away from even more European Championship history by matching French legend Michel Platini's record mark of nine goals in the Finals.

The Real Madrid star has already become the first player to score in four Euros and has broken the competition record for appearances.

At 31, Ronaldo is unlikely to get a better chance for international glory with the winners in Marseille facing a semi-final clash against his club team-mate Gareth Bale's Wales or Belgium.

Despite a slow start to the tournament, the Portuguese has burst onto the scene by scoring a double against Hungary to save his nation's blushes and sneak through past the group stage in third place.

Ronaldo also had a part to play in Portugal's 1-0 victory over Croatia in the last 16, when Ricardo Quaresma headed home after Danijel Subasic parried Ronaldo's effort.

"We'll always have a chance. We've got the best player in the world - Ronaldo - and the likes of Nani, Quaresma and Joao Mario," said Portugal defender Jose Fonte.

Portugal were criticised for their negative approach against Croatia as for the first time in the history of the tournament, no team had a shot on target during the regulation 90 minutes.

Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny laughed off suggestions Ronaldo is not on top form, and said it would be great if the forward were to be his team-mate.

"Portugal are a great team, they are not just Cristiano Ronaldo and some say he is not playing his best. I would still love to have him in my team," said Szczesny.

At the Polish firing front, Lewandowski is yet to find the net in four games in France, but kept his cool to convert from the spot as Poland progressed to their first major quarter-final for 34 years with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland.

Most forwards who fail to score would be warming the bench and facing criticism from the media and fans. But the Bayern Munich striker will be a key part of Poland's efforts to defeat Portugal.

After scoring 13 goals in the qualifiers, Lewandowski's statistics in his first four games in France make disappointing reading - no goals, two attempts on target, three attempts off target and three blocked attempts.

But for Poland, Lewandowski is the heartbeat of a team who, although full of energy and collective spirit, do not have a creative playmaker.

As the leader, Lewandowski works for the team as a defensive No. 10, rather than battling to get himself a goal.

His labours have created more space for partner Arkadiusz Milik, whose crisp finish against Northern Ireland won the game, and for his former Dortmund club mate Jakub Blaszczykowski, who has netted twice so far.

"It's a great responsibility. When I first put on the armband, I didn't know that this small accessory could make such a big difference," he said.

"Not many people know how much commitment and effort are required, not just physical, but also mental."

The Polish captain's opening penalty in the shoot-out, which left the goalkeeper stranded as it flew into the top-right corner, could be the confidence boost he needs.

But Fonte is confident he will be able to handle Lewandowski, the top scorer of the Bundesliga last season with 30 goals.

"We have to be at our best level. I play in a competitive league, with strikers of great quality and Lewandowski is another," said the Southampton defender.

For Poland coach Adam Nawalka, the Ronaldo factor presents a tactical conundrum.

Is he prepared to press high in search of a goal, knowing that a wrong step could unleash a Portuguese counter-attack, or does he sit back and risk becoming just a spectator to another Ronaldo masterclass?

And who knows, Lewandowski could turn the tables and finally break his duck right at the crucial moment.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Battle of the hotshots'. Print Edition | Subscribe