A nation remained expectant following Portugal’s 1-1 draw with minnows Iceland on Tuesday evening. The positive sentiments installed before travelling to France quickly faded as captain Cristiano Ronaldo twice struck the Icelandic wall during the dying seconds the game.
This after leaders such as Joao Moutinho and Danny spoke positively of Selecao’s chances of winning the European Championships this summer, such was their belief in this talented crop of Portuguese players.
Well if the players were drunk with optimism going into the competition, the encounter with Iceland was certainly a sobering experience. “Now, to win” read Record this morning - no time for any post-match hangover for Fernando Santos’ men.
Few but important changes
An extremely capable Austrian side would provide an even sterner test for the Iberian outfit, however, with the likes of Christian Fuchs, David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic starting in Paris. Sebastian Prodl, Stefan Ilsanker and Marcel Sabitzer were also called upon by manager Marcel Koller after missing out on the opening match with Hungary.
William Carvalho proved to be the man to take the place of the injured Danilo, an integral part of the team in defensive midfield, while an in-form Ricardo Quaresma replaced Joao Mario. The prospect of a Quaresma-Nani-Ronaldo front three definitely an exciting one for those packed inside the Parc de Princes.
Plenty of chances but no goals in first-half, again
First-half goals at the 15th edition of the European Championships have come at a premium, with there being just 11 before this Group G fixture, but chances proved to be commonplace during early proceedings in Paris.
Martin Harnik acquired the first of those chances when the German-born attacker was found at the back post by an accurate Marcel Sabitzer cross but Harnik headed agonisingly wide of Rui Patricio’s goal. The relatively simple headed chance was soon reciprocated by Nani after the ball fell to him courtesy of a misplaced Stefan Ilsanker clearance, but he failed to add to his goal against Iceland.
The 29-year-old was always going to receive more shooting opportunities this summer having been deployed as a striker for the opening two games but he will have to improve his finishing if Portugal do wish to advance to the latter stages of this tournament. The forward did superbly to evade the challenge of Watford’s Sebastian Prodl before he struck the incoming Robert Almer. The goalkeeper was called into action twice more as Vieirinha and William Carvalho tested the ever-present shot stopper.
If there was anyone that could be relied upon to open the scoring, though, it would be an aggravated Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid's finest scored over 50 goals for a sixth consecutive season during his club’s Champions League winning campaign but was unable to find the net when Raphael Guerreiro pulled it back for Portugal’s talisman, who side-footed the ball wide of the target.
Nani was unlucky once more as the former Manchester United winger struck the post with yet another header 28 minutes in and he might have rued his miss when David Alaba, who ushered Marko Arnautovic away from the free-kick, launched an outstanding ball into the penalty area only for Vieirinha to clear on his goal-line.
Portugal go for the three points
The second half started with a new found intensity. Das Team dealt the first blow when Ilsanker shot from long range before Ronaldo, who might have channeled any lingering frustrations into this thunderous shot, had his effort well saved. Another opportunity went begging from the resulting corner when Ronaldo’s towering header was easily dealt with by Almer.
As the game wore on it became apparent that both of these teams would be in need of a victory to assure qualification if it stayed scoreless. Both searched for a win but Portugal continued pushing Austria further into their own half but to no avail as the back four became increasingly difficult to break down.
So, when Ronaldo was rightly awarded a penalty from the Italian referee after being brought down by Hinteregger with 10 minutes remaining, it appeared as though the penalty could provide this fixture’s only goal. Elation? Relief? Joy? No, only anguish. The great Cristiano Ronaldo stuttered during his run up, sent the goalkeeper completely the wrong way but dramatically hit the post to the dismay of his manager. The best opportunity of the night arrived at the feet of the best player on the pitch, but he could not capitalise. The situation was only exacerbated further when Ronaldo’s glancing header was called offside.
Any chances created after the penalty miss were only thwarted by both sets of defenders as the match drew to a close. “Now, to win” will have to be the message from the home front once more as Portugal go into the final group game against Hungary. Austria would have been happy with an improved performance and ecstatic with the point, however, they will need a victory over Iceland to have a chance of progressing to the knock-out stages.