Battling teammates and ‘ugly’ wins keep Ronaldo in Euro hunt
Portugal let Iceland fight back from a goal down to get a 1-1 draw in their first group. They fired 23 shots at Austria but only got a goalless draw in their second game. Portugal three times came back from a goal down -- with Ronaldo getting two -- to equalise in the 3-3 draw with Hungary.football Updated: Jul 06, 2016 11:36 IST
Think Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo immediately springs to mind, but the names of Nani, Renato Sanches, Ricardo Quaresmo and Rui Patricio have been saviours of a lucky and lacklustre advance to the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
Portugal have not won any of their five games so far in the 90 minutes of regulation time. Poland, their quarter-final victims, went out despite not losing a game in regulation time at the tournament.
Ronaldo, who has still scored twice despite a jaded Euro so far, would not be leading his side out against Wales in Lyon on Wednesday were it not for his teammates’ heroics.
Former Manchester United winger Nani has been transformed into an outright frontman and scored twice and provided an assist.
Goalkeeper Rui Patricio brilliantly saved Jakub Blaszczykowski’s shootout penalty to set up Portugal’s victory over Poland after 18-year-old Sanches got his first international goal to level the game during regulation time.
Quaresmo, once an unruly character on the pitch who had been Ronaldo’s fierce rival on the pitch, calmly scored the penalty that secured victory.
He also headed the goal that got an extra-time win over Croatia in the last 16.
“At certain times of the game, everyone has to assume their role as leaders,” said coach Fernando Santos after the Poland win.
- Effectively ugly -
Santos has himself been praised for the way he has forged a united team that has battled its way through against adversity.
Santos was previously coach of Greece who knew what it was like to fight their way to the final in 2004 and beat Portugal on home ground.
Portugal have taken a bizarre route to the Lyon clash against Gareth Bale’s Wales.
They let Iceland fight back from a goal down to get a 1-1 draw in their first group. They fired 23 shots at Austria but only got a goalless draw in their second game. Portugal three times came back from a goal down -- with Ronaldo getting two -- to equalise in the 3-3 draw with Hungary.
“This defeat hurts,” said Poland’s coach Adam Nawalka after seeing his side go out to the Portuguese in the last eight.
“Portugal has been very criticised for the not very sparkling football it has played -- and it is true it has not been as seductive as it was even a short time ago,” former Portugal goalkeeper Vitor Baia wrote in Record daily on Monday.
“But it has been efficient and we should be proud because now we see a team. We can even see Ronaldo becoming dependent on the others and not the other way,” he added.
Santos “deserves my respect forever,” was the response of Quaresma who has a tear tattooed on his cheek, normally the sign of someone who has killed a man.
Santos “is one of the few (coaches) to give me the confidence I needed,” added the 32-year-old, now with Besiktas in Turkey.
The coach is lucky that even when Ronaldo is misfiring he has Nani, Quaresma, teen sensation Sanches and the likes of Real Madrid defender Pepe to count on.
It may not be beautiful in the way Ronaldo would like, but Santos knows that winning is what counts.
After the Poland win, Ronaldo addressed several hundred Portugal fans who went to see the team train at their base near Paris.
“We appreciate your support but we haven’t won anything yet,” the captain said.
Wales should be warned that Santos has been saying since the first day of the tournament that he expects to be at the final on July 10 in Paris.
“Would I like us to be pretty? Yes,” said Santos after the quarter-final win. “But in between being pretty and being at home, or ugly and being here, I prefer to be ugly.”