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Portugal into semi finals without winning a match

July 1, 2016 8:07 AM
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After beating Poland on penalties Ronaldo and co become first side to make the semis without a win inside 90 minutes

If ever a statistic summed up the negativity on show at Euro 2016 it's the one that reveals Portugal have reached the semi-final without winning a game in normal time.

It's the first time in European Championship history that a side has progressed so far without winning a match inside 90 minutes, but Thursday night's dour encounter between Portugal and Poland typified the football that has been all too common in France in the last three weeks.

But for the exploits of Wales and Iceland it would be a tournament to forget, and should the Welsh beat Belgium tonight in their quarter-final clash in Lille, they'll play Portugal next Wednesday. Wales will have to be on their guard, not against Cristiano Ronaldo, who again struggled to find his rhythm last night, but against boredom. As The Times comments, the Portuguese "are pathologically risk-averse, unwilling to overcommit in attack, desirous of victory but determined, more than anything else, to avoid defeat".

They looked on course to lose when Robert Lewandowski scored his first goal of the tournament after 100 seconds - the second-quickest goal to have been scored at a Euros - thanks to Kamil Grosicki’s cross.

Portugal should have had a penalty on the half hour mark when Ronaldo was bundled over in the box by Michal Pazdan but three minutes later they levelled through Renato Sanches. Collecting a ball from Nani, teenage midfielder stepped inside the Polish defence and unleashed a left-foot drive from the edge of the area that went in off Grzegorz Krychowiak.

Portugal had the better of a tedious second-half but Cedric Soares, Ronaldo and Pepe all failed to take their opportunities in front of goal. Neither side was able to break the stalemate in the 30 minutes of extra-time and so penalties ensued.

Ronaldo, Sanches and Joao Moutinho were on target for Portugal, as were Lewandowski, Arkadiusz Milik and Kamil Glik for Poland. Nani made it 4-3 to the Portuguese but Jakub Blaszczykowski's spot kick was well-saved by Rui Patricio. That left Ricardo Quaresma with the decisive penalty and he made no mistake, slotting the ball past Lukasz Fabianski in the Polish goal.

"It was enormous pressure, I had an entire country in my hands," admitted Quaresma. "I didn’t have time to think. Before going to the ball I was very confident. We’re on the right track and we’re going to continue."

There was a similar sentiment from man of the match Sanches, who explained that from a Portuguese perspective the end justifies the means. “It is a wonderful moment for the team," declared the teenager. “People criticise us but we don’t care, because we are in the semis."

A last gasp goal from Arnor Traustason broke Austrian hearts but filled English ones with joy, as it saved them from a showdown with Ronaldo.

Iceland's 2-1 win over Austria means the smallest country to have every competed in the Euros finished second in Group F, setting up a last 16 clash with England in Nice on Monday evening. The last time the two sides met, in a friendly in 2004, Iceland were thrashed 6-1 by the Three Lions with Wayne Rooney scoring twice.

It was Rooney's omission from the starting line-up against Slovakia on Monday night that has caused such criticism of Roy Hodgson. The England manager made six changes in the expectation his side would beat Slovakia, finish top of the group, and face an easy last 16 match. But the goalless draw meant England were faced with the possibility of playing Portugal in the next round, the country who have twice knocked England out of tournaments in recent years.

As the two Group F matches neared their end, Austria and Iceland were tied at one apiece, and Hungary and Poland were running down the clock on a thrilling 3-3 encounter in which Cristiano Ronaldo had scored twice. Those results would have seen Hungary finish top of the group with Portugal in second, sending Ronaldo and his boys to the Cote d'Azur on Monday to play England.

But then Iceland launched one final counter-attack and Traustason got the scoring touch to take maximum points for his side and move them into second above Portugal, who finished third, and now play Croatia on Saturday evening.

Their captain, Cardiff City midfielder Aron Gunnarsson, attributed the win to Iceland's heritage. "It's a shame because Austria are a good team, they put us back a little bit but that's our Viking spirit, we keep fighting until the end," declared Gunnarsson, whose side had taken a first-half lead through Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.

Austria should have levelled later in the first half but Aleksandar Dragovic hit the post with his penalty, and it wasn't until early in the second half that substitute Alessandro Schopf equalised with a powerful low drive. That's how the scored remained until Traustason slid in at the far post to score the most famous goal in Iceland's history.

"It's hard to describe," Gunnarsson said of the victory. "It's something that we've dreamt about and it's something that other players want to treasure for the rest of our lives. Our aim was to get to the last 16 and now we have to set a new target."

The win was all the sweeter for Iceland because of Ronaldo's criticism of their style after the sides drew 1-1 in the group opener last week. The Real Madrid star accused the Icelanders of possessing a "small mentality", but it is they who finished above Portugual in Group F.

“What he has to say is irrelevant to us,” said Iceland's co-manager Heimir Halgrimsson on Wednesday evening. “We don’t mind what other people think of us, we try to do our best and I think the players on the pitch show they give their best.”

And Hallgrimsson had this warning for Roy Hodgson ahead of Monday's clash: "I’m not afraid of the England. Iceland knows everything about English football, we are English football crazy. I don’t think we need analyse them much but I don’t think they know too much about Iceland players."

Euro 2016 has not been going well for Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo - and just got worse.

The Real Madrid star let his temper get to him and threw a reporter's microphone into a lake ahead of the crucial showdown with Hungary.

Ronaldo has endured a miserable start to the tournament, failing to find the net in either of Portugal's first two games, and it seems the strain is getting to him.

First, he lashed out at Iceland after they drew 1-1 in their opening game of Euro 2016, accusing them of having a "small mentality". Then, in the game against Austria on Saturday, he missed a penalty and had a goal ruled out for offside. The match finished 0-0.

Portugal are currently third in Group F and need at least a point against Hungary tonight to qualify for the knock-out stages. A victory could see them top the group, but they could also be eliminated if they lose and Austria beat Iceland.

To make matters worse, Ronaldo's La Liga team-mate and the world's most expensive player, Gareth Bale, has been in fine form for Wales, scoring three times as they topped Group B. Meanwhile, in the US, rival Barcelona star Lionel Messi has also been enjoying himself for Argentina as they have progressed to the final of the Copa America.

"Ronaldo was out for a stroll with his team-mates when he was asked by a reporter from Portuguese news channel CMTV if he was prepared for the game. His response? Grab the microphone and throw it into the lake."

His luck may be out on the pitch, muses the Daily Telegraph, but Ronaldo "is still managing to produce memorable moments away from the field of play".

Portugal's finest threw his toys out of his pram on Tuesday night after his side were held to a remarkable 1-1 draw by Iceland. The European Championship minnows, best known for Bjork and an unpronounceable volcano, produced the shock of the tournament thus far, and it didn't go down well with Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Portugal try to play football and try to win the game," seethed Ronaldo, who left the pitch with a sarcastic smile on his face. "Iceland didn't try anything - they were just defend, defend, defend and playing on the counter-attack."

The statistics bore out the whine of the Real Madrid star with Portugal enjoying 72 per cent of the possession, and producing 26 shots on goal to Iceland's four. Nonetheless Ronaldo, equalling Figo's record of 127 caps for his country, was guilty of ungraciousness in deriding the ambitions of his opponents. "Portugal try to play football and try to win the game," he said. "Iceland didn't try anything...this in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition."

Ronaldo admitted that it had been a "frustrating" night, as it must have been for the Portugal fans who would have expected the floodgates to open once Nani had put them ahead on the half-hour mark. But five minutes into the second-half the Icelanders - playing in their first major football tournament - levelled when Birkir Bjarnason volleyed home.

Both sides had chances to grab a winner with Ronaldo having a header saved and Alfred Finnbogason going close for Iceland.

The final whistle was greeted with delight by Iceland who, with a population of just 333,000 (compared to Portugal's 10.8m) are the smallest nation to play at a European Championship finals. Their jubilation didn't sit well with Ronaldo, who complained to the press: "I thought they'd won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end, it was unbelievable."

Ronaldo and his teammates will have the chance to put things right when they play Austria in Paris on Saturday but they can expect a backlash from their opponents who were surprisingly beaten 2-0 by Hungary earlier on Tuesday. Adam Szalai and Zoltan Stieber scored for the Hungarians while Austria's miserable day included the dismissal of Aleksandar Dragovic for a second bookable offence.

Hungary are making their first appearance at a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, and have a 40-year-old goalkeeper, Gabor Kiraly, the oldest player to appear at a European Championship finals.

Austria had won nine out of their ten matches in an unbeaten qualifying campaign but coach Marcel Koller was left to rue a disappointing performance that leaves them requiring maximum points from their two remaining group F matches. "Essentially I think we were too nervous in the first half and lost the ball too often unnecessarily," he said. "We gave Hungary the chance to have possession too often."

Hungary and Iceland meet in Marseille on Saturday and Iceland co-manager (and practising dentist) Heimir Hallgrimsson sees no reason why they can't progress from the group stage. "It’s really good to have a point, we can go a little more relaxed into the next match," he said. "With a win against Hungary, we are almost there."

An estimated eight percent of Iceland's population have made the trip to France to follow their boys, and Hallgrimsson saluted their support in St-Etienne: "It was so fantastic to play here," he said. "It was just like playing at home. When we got tired, the fans cheered them on."

The presence of Cristiano Ronaldo in Group F adds some much-needed glamour to one of the less appetising line-ups at Euro 2016, although the four teams battling it out do at least represent a cross section of Europe's different cultures and geography – from frozen Iceland in the north, to sunny Portugal in the south and across to the heart of central Europe, where east and west collide.

Portugal could not have hoped for a better draw and it would be a shock if they failed to top the group, while failing to qualify for the last 16 is almost unthinkable.

"Portugal are something of an enigma," says Eurosport. "Instinctively, you reach towards naming them among the favourites for a tournament... But there is also a sense that they never quite deliver and a poor performance at the World Cup two years ago was perhaps a reflection of their modern-day reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo."

However, Fernando Santos's team have "a good blend of young and old", says The Guardian, with the likes of Joao Mario and Renato Sanches now emerging alongside the mighty Ronaldo and other veterans including 38-year-old Ricardo Carvalho.

This is the first time that Austria have qualified for the European Championships – their only previous appearance was as hosts in 2008 – but they could do better than some expect after a brilliant qualifying campaign. "This is a smooth footballing side that packs genuine punch and they will have valid 'dark horse' status in France," says Eurosport.

Coach Marcel Koller "has fostered a tremendous spirit in a squad whose nucleus is drawn from the side that made it to the semi-finals of the 2007 U-20 World Cup", adds the Daily Telegraph. And there are some well-known players in the ranks including English and German title winners Christian Fuchs of Leicester and David Alaba of Bayern Munich. Marko Arnautovic of Stoke could make an impact as well.

"One of the many Cinderella stories of this tournament, Iceland are the smallest nation ever to qualify for the European Championship, but they're by no means the weakest," says ESPN. They twice beat the Netherlands and kept six clean sheets in qualifying.

Romantics will note that Iceland has an almost identical population to Leicester (around 330,000), and everyone knows what that city's football team achieved last season.

With three qualifiers from most groups, Iceland "are convinced they can come through Group E and then give anyone a game in the knock-out stages, and given their meteoric rise it is certainly hard not to be swept along by the confidence surrounding them", says Eurosport.

The once-mighty Magyars are vying with Albania for the title of least fancied team at Euro 2016. This is the first tournament they have qualified for since 1986 but they are unlikely to set the place on fire.

"Out of the 14 goals scored in qualifying, five came from corners, one direct from a free-kick and two after a free-kick was not cleared properly by the defence," says The Guardian.

If you are looking for stars in Group F, then Portugal is the only place to go. In Cristiano Ronaldo they have the biggest name in European football, but his supporting cast features some rough diamonds. Young Renato Sanches recently signed for Bayern Munich, while Joao Mario has had his every move followed by armies of Premier League scouts. William Carvalho is also a player linked with a move to the Premier League big guns.

Portugal vs Austria on 18 June is likely to be the match that decides the group and will be crucial, but the fairytale game is four days earlier when Portugal face Iceland in their opening fixture. Around ten per cent of the Icelandic population will be in France for this one, and an Icelandic victory would be an event to rival the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.

Source: theweek.co.uk

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