Euro 2016

Winners who don't win

Ronaldo turns away as Ricardo Quaresma prepares to take the crucial penalty against Poland on Thursday after Portugal's Rui Patricio (right) had saved a penalty from Jakub Blaszczykowski.
Ronaldo turns away as Ricardo Quaresma prepares to take the crucial penalty against Poland on Thursday after Portugal's Rui Patricio (above) had saved a penalty from Jakub Blaszczykowski. PHOTO: REUTERS
Ronaldo turns away as Ricardo Quaresma prepares to take the crucial penalty against Poland on Thursday after Portugal's Rui Patricio (right) had saved a penalty from Jakub Blaszczykowski.
Ronaldo turns away as Ricardo Quaresma prepares to take the crucial penalty against Poland on Thursday after Portugal's Rui Patricio had saved a penalty from Jakub Blaszczykowski. PHOTO: REUTERS

But Ronaldo & Co. must find their best form if Portugal are to reach the final

MARSEILLE • Cristiano Ronaldo could not bear to watch the penalty shoot-out on Thursday that sent Portugal into the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and Poland, heartbroken, back home.

His own spot-kick safely converted, he hid himself away behind his team-mates, gathered on the halfway line, waiting for it to be over.

Portugal's journey to the final four has been enough to shred even his iron nerves. Fernando Santos' side have played five Euro 2016 games, and not won a single one of them in normal time.

The group stage brought three draws, the 117th-minute intervention of Ricardo Quaresma which shattered their stalemate with Croatia in the round of 16, and on Thursday, a 5-3 win on penalties over Poland after 90 minutes produced a 1-1 result.

Yet another skin-of-the-teeth evening was settled only when goalkeeper Rui Patricio saved Jakub Blaszczykowski's penalty. Quaresma, once more, seized the glory by scoring the decisive penalty.

  • 3

    Shoot-outs Portugal have won out of four at major tournaments.

    6

    Extra-time games played by Portugal at the European Championship - only the Netherlands (7) have played more.

"People have criticised us a lot," said Portugal's young midfielder Renato Sanches. "But we don't care. We are in the semi-finals."

This is their fifth appearance at this stage of a major tournament since 2000, by some distance the most successful period in the country's history.

But Portugal are pathologically risk-averse, unwilling to over-commit in attack, desirous of victory but determined, more than anything else, to avoid defeat.

This is a pedigreed squad, without question, but one seemingly condemned to play like mongrels. Even Ronaldo seems to be affected.

Thursday's front cover of La Marseillaise had called this game a "clash of the titans" - Robert Lewandowski and Ronaldo.

The former did his bit to live up to his billing, sweeping home just 100 seconds in from Kamil Grosicki's cross to put Poland ahead and enter his name in the record books. It was the second-fastest goal ever scored in the European Championship.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, was frustrated against Iceland; embarrassed against Austria; ignited for a game against Hungary before being extinguished easily by the Croats.

He gives the impression he is scrambling, grasping for his best form, trying things he hopes, rather than believes, might come off.

Even Santos felt moved to interject. "He played an amazing game," the coach said. "People always focus on Cristiano and say that he has to score. But he has been playing amazing football for us, and he is a great leader for the team."

Portugal progressed on Thursday thanks to the contributions of others, but, if they are to make it to the final, they will need Ronaldo at his best. They cannot always fall back, as they did on Thursday, on the resilience of Pepe or start to turn to Sanches to deliver them.

The 18-year-old is now the youngest scorer ever in the European Championship, thanks to his deflected effort that drew Portugal level midway through the first half.

His was an impressive performance and Bayern Munich obviously got something of a bargain by spending £35 million (S$62.6 million) to capture him before the tournament.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'Winners who don't win'. Print Edition | Subscribe