Portugal must improve, or implode
Ronaldo and Co. are kidding themselves if they think they can win Euro 2016
(Robert Lewandowski 2)
(Renato Sanches 33)
- After extra-time, Portugal win 5-3 on penalties
It took a Ricardo Quaresma strike to settle what 120 minutes of football couldn't.
With a swipe of his trusty right foot, the 32-year-old sent Portugal into dreamland.
His successful penalty helped Portugal to a 5-3 shoot-out victory over Poland at the Stade Velodrome yesterday morning (Singapore time), after the game had ended 1-1 in extra-time.
The Seleccao are in the semi-finals for the fourth time in the last five European Championships.
But Fernando Santos and his men got to be kidding themselves if they think they can win Euro 2016.
Never mind the defensive football.
But never before have a team got this far by producing this little.
Five matches into the tournament, they have yet to win a game inside 90 minutes.
They scraped through to the knockout round with three draws, thanks to the expanded format of the competition which resulted in only eight out of 24 teams being eliminated from the group stage.
They dished out similarly bland football against Croatia in the Round of 16, and bagged the only goal of the game three minutes before the end of extra-time.
Against Poland yesterday morning, they went behind to an early strike by Robert Lewandowski, drew level through Renato Sanches, then retreated back into their defensive shell.
Santos lamented that his side should have had a penalty during the match. But he's pressing his luck.
Portugal couldn't even still be in the competition if not for the fact that they had been handed the far easier half of the knockout draw.
They are nothing more than a very average team who have been riding on their luck.
Santos' game plan is a cautious one built on a shaky foundation.
It revolves around an entire team helping out a porous defence which failed to hold on to a 1-0 lead against Iceland and conceded thrice to the Hungarians.
Cedric Soares, Pepe, Jose Fonte and Eliseu were spared embarrassment in Marseille only simply because Poland were just as reluctant to take risks.
Up front, there is little to suggest that they can go all the way, too.
Star forward Cristiano Ronaldo spoke about getting closer to his "dream" of winning a major tournament with his country, but he hasn't played the starring role that is expected of him.
His performances at Euro 2016 have been riddled with his selfish endeavours in the penalty area and his appalling misses, including one from the spot against Austria.
Only once in five games has he truly sparkled, against Hungary whom he scored twice and set up Nani for the first equaliser.
And Nani himself?
He was too busy tracking back, under the orders of Santos, to deter a Polish attack with little intention to go forward.
Instead, it was left to Sanches, the talented 18-year-old midfielder, to make the meaningful impact.
Santos has no wish to alter his approach.
After the win over Poland, he said: "I'm confident about my work. We'll approach the semis in the same way we've done so far."
Defensive football has never been a stumbling block to tournament success, and Portugal should know from experience.
Massive underdogs Greece showed the way 12 years ago, on Portuguese soil no less.
But that Greek side possessed some crucial qualities - Tactical discipline, organisation, cohesion and a fantastic team spirit.
Going by their performances in France, Portugal are nowhere near at the same level.
So, if they are this bad, then why are they in the last four?
Let's see how they got there in the first place.
They have played Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Poland en route to a semi-final date in Lyon next Thursday morning.
They have been fortuitously shielded from heavyweights the likes of Germany, Italy, France and Spain on the other side of the draw.
It's only a matter of time before they get found out.
Portugal coach Santos hails 'amazing' Ronaldo
Portugal coach Fernando Santos hailed Cristiano Ronaldo's performance as "amazing" despite his failure to score as his side progressed to the Euro 2016 semi-finals with a 5-3 penalty shoot-out win over Poland yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Ronaldo is just one goal off matching Michel Platini's record of nine in Euro finals, but endured a frustrating night in front of goal during the 120 minutes in Marseille.
The Real Madrid star did net from the penalty spot in the shoot-out and Santos reserved special praise for Ronaldo and his club teammate Pepe.
"Pepe and Cristiano played an amazing game, sometimes people undervalue them," said Santos. "People focus on Ronaldo because he has to score, but he played amazing, he is a great captain.
"Pepe was amazing today too."
Portugal continue to be a paradox at Euro 2016, reaching the semi-finals without ever giving the kind of uplifting performance that their talented team should be capable of.
But there has been something strangely unsatisfying, and even exasperating, about their performances at Euro 2016.
Their style of play is not especially defensive, they do not commit more fouls than anyone else and their average of 19 goal attempts per game is the fourth highest at the tournament.
On the other hand, their second-round tie against Croatia was dire and the second hour of the match against Poland lulled Marseille's Stade Velodrome into near silence.
It has been pretty much the same story since the amiable Santos took over in September 2014, having led Greece to the last 16 at the World Cup.
Portugal are unbeaten in 12 competitive matches under his leadership, but their nine wins during that period have all been by single-goal margins.
Their line-up suggests they should be capable of more.
Three-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, former Manchester United winger Nani, mercurial forward Ricardo Quaresma and midfielder Joao Moutinho have shown only the odd flash of their abilities.
Instead, Portugal have become a team who are difficult to beat, even more difficult to watch, and the talk after matches is invariably about unity, hard work and commitment.
They are also clinical in penalty shoot-outs and converted all five spot-kicks against Poland.
"We are a team with great character. I continue to say I'm only going home on July 11," said Santos, who has insisted since the start that Portugal will reach the final on July 10.
"You need to have courage to take penalties in a shoot-out, you need to have personality and cold blood, and the players had that."
Ronaldo was equally upbeat.
"Maybe nobody gave much for our chances, but we are now in the semi-finals," he said.
"It was a very important win, the team took the penalties well and fought hard. We are in the semi-finals and now anything in possible."
- Wire Services.
"Maybe nobody gave much for our chances but we are now in the semi-finals. It was a very important win, the team took the penalties well and fought hard. We are in the semi-finals and now anything in possible."
- Cristiano Ronaldo