EURO 2016

Key men must fire or face early exits

Captain Ronaldo accounted for 10 of Portugal's 24 shots on goal against Iceland, and he will be hoping Austria's goalkeeper Robert Almer is not in similarly inspired form today at the Parc des Princes.
Captain Ronaldo accounted for 10 of Portugal's 24 shots on goal against Iceland, and he will be hoping Austria's goalkeeper Robert Almer is not in similarly inspired form today at the Parc des Princes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Portugal's Ronaldo and Austria's Arnautovic have little room for error after poor openers

GROUP F

Portugal v Austria

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PARIS • Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is looking to make amends for a below-par performance and some unwise words when his team take on Austria today.

He struggled to impose himself in his opening Group F game, and after the 1-1 draw against Iceland, he lambasted the minnows for their "small mentality" because of their defensive tactics.

The Real Madrid ace, who is looking for a goal that will make him the first to score in four European Championship tournaments, has been lambasted across the continent for his petulant outburst, with Iceland's Karni Arnason labelling him "not a gracious human being".

Ronaldo had 10 of Portugal's 24 shots on goal, but they were denied by an outstanding display from Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.

"I think it was a good match in terms of what we did. We had several chances to score and a lot of possession. Obviously it wasn't the result we wanted, but I think we played well," said Renato Sanches, Portugal's 18-year-old midfielder.

He expects another physical encounter against the desperate Austrians, who surprisingly lost 0-2 to Hungary in their opening game.

HANDLE WITH CARE

It is important that he has confidence even if he makes a mistake. Right from the outset, we knew we needed to support him, to try and talk to him, to try and help him to improve.

MARCEL KOLLER, Austria's coach, on the temperamental No. 7 Marko Arnautovic.

"We are expecting to come up against a very aggressive team who want to win, because if they lose this match, they'll be in a very difficult position," he said. "So we're expecting to face a team playing with great intensity."

To add to the Austrians' woes, they will be without suspended defender Aleksandar Dragovic, while midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic's tournament looks to be over after he suffered ankle ligament damage against the Hungarians.

Austria's own No. 7, Marko Arnautovic, also came into the tournament with high hopes, only to start with a below-par display made worse by a sulky attitude after being marked out by the Hungarians.

The Stoke forward's temperament has often threatened to over-ride his talent, but Austria coach Marcel Koller has made efforts to keep his key man on the straight and narrow.

The Swiss said: "It is important that he has confidence even if he makes a mistake. Right from the outset, we knew we needed to support him, to try and talk to him, to try and help him to improve."

He believes that, against Hungary, his side froze under the favourites tag in their first major tournament in eight years.

Koller explained: "Maybe some players were nervous because it was the beginning. We can't just push a button and say, 'Now I'm going to play at my best level.'

"The situation now is we'll have to try and win against Portugal."

Despite a forgiving format allowing 16 of the 24 teams to progress to the knockout stages, defeat for either side would leave them facing an embarrassing early exit.

"The group is relaxed. Despite the draw, we still feel good," said Sanches. "This only gives us motivation and desire because we know that every game will be more difficult now. I think the group is quietly determined."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Key men must fire or face early exits'. Print Edition | Subscribe