Portugal vs Poland: Ten players to watch out for in Euro quarterfinal
Two of Europe’s most prolific marksmen go head-to-head as Robert Lewandowski aims to end Cristiano Ronaldo’s dreams of landing an international trophy when Poland meet Portugal in a Euro 2016 quarterfinal clash on Thursday.euro 2016 Updated: Jun 30, 2016 10:28 IST
Two of Europe’s most prolific marksmen go head-to-head as Robert Lewandowski aims to end Cristiano Ronaldo’s dreams of landing an international trophy when Poland meet Portugal in a Euro 2016 quarterfinal clash on Thursday.
Here are players to watch out for in the first Euro quarterfinal match:
Who else? Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at the European Championship as its undisputed star. However, he has hit both highs and lows so far. Some unflattering comments on fan-favorite Iceland were followed by him grabbing a TV journalist’s microphone and apparently throwing it into a nearby lake. But he refused to let Portugal be eliminated at the group phase, scoring two goals and setting up another to secure a 3-3 draw with Hungary that sent his team through. He failed to score in the other three matches, and missed a penalty. But the Real Madrid forward did make up for a quiet match against Croatia by setting up the stoppage-time winner in the round-of-16. Against Poland, he will be aiming to equal Michel Platini’s all-time scoring record of nine goals at European Championships.
The star striker is making headlines for the wrong reasons in France. After scoring 13 times in qualification — more than any other player in the competition — Lewandowski is goalless at Euro 2016. The Bayern Munich striker has never stopped working and his runs have opened up space for teammates — coach Adam Nawalka has said he is doing “phenomenal work” in that role — but he will be keen to get off the mark against Portugal.
Portugal doesn’t have the tightest of defenses, but the player who most often rescues his teammates at the last second is Pepe. The centerback is the heart of Portugal’s defense and a steady hand in comparison to Ricardo Carvalho, who was dropped for the last match against Croatia. Along with Ronaldo and goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Pepe is the only other Portugal player to have played every minute of the competition for coach Fernando Santos. He will be charged with making sure Poland striker Robert Lewandowski doesn’t finally rediscover his scoring touch in Marseille.
Poland may only have scored three times in four games, but Blaszczykowski has been the standout player in attack, scoring goals against Switzerland and Ukraine, in the latter game as substitute. He set up Poland’s only other goal at Euro 2016 with a pinpoint cross for Arkadiusz Milik in its Group C opener against Northern Ireland. With Lewandowski often marked intensely, Blaszczykowski could be key. Poland has never lost a game when Blaszczykowski has scored.
Always in Ronaldo’s shadow, Nani has been Portugal’s most consistent attacking player in France. The winger scored Portugal’s first goal of the competition in a 1-1 draw with Iceland, and he started its fightback against Hungary with another goal. He celebrated his 100th appearance with the national side by launching the move that led to Ricardo Quaresma’s winner to oust Croatia in the round of 16.
He wasn’t Poland’s first-choice goalkeeper when the tournament started, but Fabianski has become a key member of the team since Wojciech Szczesny hurt his thigh in the first game. He kept clean sheets against world champion Germany and against Ukraine. The only goal he has conceded outside a penalty shootout was the spectacular overhead kick scored by Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri in the round of 16. He didn’t need to make a save in the 5-4 shootout win over the Swiss, the only miss coming when Granit Xhaka skewed his spot kick wide of the post.
Portuguese teenager Renato Sanches got all the attention following the 18-year-old’s move to Bayern Munich last month. And while Sanches has provided glimpses of promise coming off the bench, William Carvalho has quietly impressed as a serious, disciplined defensive midfielder. After not playing a minute in Portugal’s opener, Carvalho has been the focal point of Portugal’s midfield. The 24-year-old is second only to Pepe in passes attempted and completed, with a completion rate of 92%.
The defensive mid fielder’s boundless energy has been crucial for Poland, which has only conceded one goal in open play — Shaqiri’s stunner. In attack, his smart passing helped the team to dominate Northern Ireland, earning him a man of the match award. Krychowiak, a two-time Europa League winner with Sevilla, also blocked out the pressure to score the decisive penalty in the shoot out against Switzerland.
With only one start in four matches, Ricardo Quaresma has provided some much needed spark off the bench. The forward went on against Hungary and made an excellent cross for Ronaldo to score his second goal and seal the draw. Quaresma then had his moment to shine when he scored the injury-time goal to send Portugal past Croatia and into the final eight.
Poland’s youngest player at just 19 years, Kapustka put in an eye-catching performance in his team’s 1-0 opening win against Northern Ireland, earning plaudits from former England defender Rio Ferdinand, who called him a “very clever, composed and skillful player,” in comments on Twitter. Former England striker Gary Lineker labeled Kapustka a “deliciously talented 19 year old.” But since then, Kapustka has only showed fleeting glimpses of that talent and missed the Switzerland game through suspension.
(With inputs from AFP)