Before the Championships, the chances of Portugal were at best questionable and more realistically, nigh-on nonexistent. Stuck in a group with big hitters Germany and Holland, as well as Denmark who qualified for these Finals ahead of the Portuguese, it looked likely that a first-round exit was on the cards.
Now though, they are two wins away from doing something that not even their own ‘golden generation’ of Luis Figo, Rui Costa et al managed – winning a major tournament. So, have they shown enough over the past fortnight to become potential winners?
WHY THEY CAN
Trying to avoid mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo first here is almost impossible. Everything about Portugal going forward flows through him, he attacks with a punch and a drive that their semi-final opponents Spain have lacked in all their games against decent opposition, apart from the odd occasion when David Silva really drives forward.
What Ronaldo is though, is a known quantity. Everyone knew how good the Real Madrid man was coming into the tournament. What else about this side makes them capable of winning the tournament?
Starting at the back, Pepe and Bruno Alves have looked one of the more consistent pairings in the tournament. They only conceded one real chance to the German’s which Mario Gomez took with lethal effect and the goal that the Dutch scored was a thunderbolt from outside the area. Even when they did struggle, against Denmark, it was aerially and with Spain, then either Germany or Italy in the final, it would hardly be any of those sides ‘Plan A’ attack.
Meanwhile, the midfield may not have had the creativity of the likes of Andres Iniesta or Bastian Schweinsteiger but the holding midfield players they do play, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, are able to tick things over in the style of two Sergio Busquets, which gives the likes of Ronaldo and Nani the freedom to play.
WHY THEY WON’T
The name Ronaldo pops up here again. There were times early on in his international career when it seemed like he could not perform to the high standards that he was producing in club football because he felt overshadowed with the big names within that side. Now though, it is almost gone full circle with Ronaldo feeling the weight of carrying the hopes of the entire nation on his back with those players gone and the ones coming through not being at the same elite level.
Witnessing their game against Denmark in the ‘Little Portugal’ area of London it was remarkable to witness the way Ronaldo’s posturing seeps through to the fans as they groaned through every mistake their talisman made. It is not just a fans thing; unquestionably, there are some times when Ronaldo will definitely take on an extra man or hit a wild finish because he simply does not trust the supporting cast he has around him at international level.
Given the famous lack of strikers that the Portuguese have, that is understandable and there is no question that it is partially the reason for Ronaldo’s desperation. Helder Postiga has started every game so far on the back of a decent year with Real Zaragoza, but will be out with a thigh injury sustained in the quarter-final, which leaves a choice between Hugo Almeida and Nelson Oliveira.
Almeida is vastly more experienced and has scored 13 goals for Besiktas last season, but with the exception of one goal as substitute against a Spanish side suffering from a World Cup-winning hangover, his international goals have come against such footballing heavyweights as Mozambique, Cyprus, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein. Whereas, 20-year Oliveira has undoubted potential but has yet to even score a league goal for Benfica.
SO WHICH IS IT?
Back on June 8th, Portugal looked set to go home with the same amount of points as Norway usually leave Eurovision with (nil). However, they have looked one of the most organised, well connected teams in the tournament.
If Ronaldo is up for it then they will have a greater cutting edge than the Spanish. Seeing as how much the Messi v Ronaldo debate, particularly in Spain, gets to him personally, I do not see how he would not be on top form.
Then it would truly depend on if they can take the lead which, if they to do so and not give away a cheap equaliser in the euphoria, presents Spain with a conundrum they have not had to solve since Switzerland in the World Cup two years ago. They did not solve it then either.
Once that happens, the final may well beckon and although they would go into the final as underdogs, any team that finally knocks off Spain will have to be given a great deal of respect.
Tags: Cristiano Ronaldo, Euro 2012, Portugal, Spain