Fabianski calm ahead of Portugal match

QUARTER-FINALS

Poland v Portugal

Singtel TV Ch142 & StarHub Ch220, July 1, 2.50am

MARSEILLE • Poland will bring the curtain up on the Euro 2016 quarter-finals when they meet Portugal in Marseille on Thursday, just as they opened the last 16 on Saturday. Having just about overcome Switzerland, Adam Nawalka and his players will hope this is a good omen.

Neutrals will simply hope for some more of the end-to-end, shifting momentum that characterised th match. The negative approach of Portugal against Croatia, together with Poland's impressive defensive record, might give reason for a certain trepidation.

It was Lukasz Fabianski, rather than the first-choice Wojciech Szczesny, who ended up conceding Poland's first goal of the tournament in Saint-Etienne, eight minutes from the end of game four, but there was no question of blame being attached.

If there is a better goal in this tournament than Xherdan Shaqiri's stupendous scissor-kick that beat Fabianski to take the game into extra time, we will be lucky - even if Shaqiri responded to an inquiry about the "best" goal of his career by saying, "I always score nice goals".

If Gunner Szczesny had not suffered a badly bruised thigh in the opener against Northern Ireland, Swansea's Fabianski would still be filling one of the least enviable roles in the squad, that of default cheerleader. Instead, he has become a central figure.

"It's the life of a goalkeeper really," he mused, reflecting on a peripatetic international career.

"It's always been like that, especially in the national team. You can never really please everyone. There will always be one happy (goalkeeper) and the other… not disappointed, but a little bit frustrated, because we're playing regularly in our clubs."

When Poland reach the Stade Velodrome, they will hope their expected difference-maker finally steps up.

Robert Lewandowski did finally manage an effort on target, but was largely subdued, playing a deeper role in support of Arkadiusz Milik.

Whoever gets the chances in Marseille, Poland will have to cut out the profligacy to avoid suffering the same slow demise that Croatia did against Portugal.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Fabianski calm ahead of Portugal match'. Print Edition | Subscribe