After a mixed first season with Real Madrid, Fabio Coentrao has enjoyed a renaissance with Portugal despite the onerous task of having to provide cover for Cristiano Ronaldo.
A former left-winger, Coentrao is an accomplished dribbler and attacker but his role for Portugal is clearly defined: secure the left flank to give Ronaldo a solid platform upon which to perform.
Against Denmark, Coentrao was instrumental in setting up Silvestre Varela’s 87th-minute winner. In the wins over Holland and the Czechs that followed, Coentrao continued to alternate between covering Ronaldo’s attacking forays and charging forward to overload the right side of the opposition defence.
Having struggled to displace Marcelo in the Real Madrid first team, Coentrao is using the Euro to remind Jose Mourinho of his worth. A close-season acquisition from Benfica in 2011, Coentrao flitted between roles in midfield and defence in his debut Madrid campaign, labouring to justify his 30 million euro price-tag.
A month before Madrid’s Champions League semifinal exit, he had been caught out by paparazzi with a cigarette hanging from his mouth after a night out to celebrate his 24th birthday. Unimpressed, Mourinho promptly dropped him. From the player's perspective, Coentrao says the gulf between his performances for his club and his national side is a question of “confidence”.
“The environment is completely different,” he said.
“With my team-mates’ confidence, I’m able to show what I'm capable of.”
Ronaldo, for one, needs no reminding of Coentrao's worth.