Euro 2016: Portugal not a one-man team

Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio during training on the eve of the semi-final against Wales. The strong displays of Patricio and his team-mates have compensated for Cristiano Ronaldo's jaded campaign.
Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio during training on the eve of the semi-final against Wales. The strong displays of Patricio and his team-mates have compensated for Cristiano Ronaldo's jaded campaign.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Strong supporting cast bails team out as star man Ronaldo struggles for top form

LYON • Think Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo immediately springs to mind, but the names of Luis Nani, Renato Sanches, Ricardo Quaresma and Rui Patricio have been saviours of a lucky and lacklustre advance to the Euro 2016 semi-finals.

Portugal have not won any of their five games so far in the 90 minutes of regulation time. Poland, their quarter-final victims, went out despite not losing a game in regulation time at the tournament.

Ronaldo, who has still scored twice despite a jaded Euro so far, would not be leading his side out against Wales in Lyon today were it not for his team-mates' heroics.

Former Manchester United winger Nani has been transformed into an outright frontman and scored twice and provided an assist.

Goalkeeper Rui Patricio brilliantly saved Jakub Blaszczykowski's shoot-out penalty to set up Portugal's victory over Poland after 18-year-old Sanches got his first international goal to level the game during regulation time.

 

Quaresma, once an unruly character on the pitch who had been Ronaldo's fierce rival, calmly scored the penalty that secured victory.

He also headed the goal that got an extra-time win over Croatia in the last 16.

"At certain times of the game, everyone has to assume their role as leaders," said coach Fernando Santos.

Santos, Greece's former national coach, has himself been praised for the way he has forged a united team who have battled their way through adversity.

Portugal have taken a bizarre route to the Lyon clash against Gareth Bale's Wales.

They let Iceland fight back from a goal down to get a 1-1 draw in their first group match.

They fired 23 shots at Austria but only got a goal-less draw in their second game.

And, thrice, Portugal had to came back from a goal down - with Ronaldo getting two - to equalise in the 3-3 draw with Hungary.

"Portugal have been very criticised for the not very sparkling football they have played - and it is true they have not been as seductive as they were even a short time ago," former Portugal goalkeeper Vitor Baia wrote in Record daily on Monday.

"But they have been efficient and we should be proud because now we see a team.

"We can even see Ronaldo becoming dependent on the others and not the other way."

Portugal have reached this stage with Ronaldo nowhere near his best form and, in a way, that has been good news as it proves there is enough talent available to make up for his below-par performances.

It may not be beautiful in the way Ronaldo would like, but Santos knows that winning is what counts.

Wales should be warned that as early as Portugal's stalemate with Austria in their second group match, Santos has been saying that he expects to be at the final on Sunday in Paris.

"I will not be home until July 11. And there will be a huge party waiting for me," the coach said.

Now, his prediction is one game from coming true, with only Wales standing in his way.

Criticism remains prevalent because their general play has lacked beauty, but Santos is cool with it as they keep progressing.

"Would I like us to be pretty? Yes," he said.

"But in between being pretty and being at home, or ugly and being here, I prefer to be ugly."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline 'Portugal not a one-man team'. Print Edition | Subscribe