Game of the Day: Portugal vs. Iceland, Saint-Etienne, 20:00
Football is and will always be a team sport. Yet in some cases, an individual can become the team, become so significant that the other 10 players become nothing more than a side show to that one player’s influence. Sweden have Zlatan. Portugal have ‘CR7’. And the burden will once more be firmly on the Real Madrid’s stars shoulders if Portugal are to make any serious inroads into the knock-out stages.
Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent tournament record is best summed as sort of being the girl who was almost a bridesmaid to the bride. Almost constantly in and around the knock out stages of any major footballing competition over the last 12 years, Portugal just can’t quite get the job done.
The closest Ronaldo and Portugal have come to securing their first senior international success was when Portugal hosted Euro 2004. Eventually losing the final to Greece, it was the meeting of two generations as Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a potential star alongside the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto. Consequent tournaments saw Portugal reach the semi-final of both the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012, whilst reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2008. Can this Portugal side finally deliver that elusive maiden international title?
In terms of household names, this isn’t a vintage year for Portuguese football. Ronaldo aside, Portugal are still littered with the names of previous tournaments. The playmaker in chief Joao Moutinho will be crucial in providing that little bit of spark going into the final third and with the likes of Bruno Alves, Pepe and William Carvalho, Portugal have tenacity and physically abound.
A player that I personally cannot wait to see take to the field is Renato Sanches. It was only after seeing Sanches take to the field against England that I sort of got what everyone was raving about. Whilst Bayern Munich splashing some serious dollar on a 19 year old should be some indication of his talents, in today’s world of inflated football transfers, sometimes you need to see them in the flesh.
What struck me most about Sanches was just his size. After seeing him ride through three England challenges, one of which involved Raheem Sterling literally being chewed up and spat out, his physicality and calmness under pressure was impressive. Chuck a shed load of speed and a supposed ability to hit an absolute stunner and the future looks incredibly bright for Renato Sanches.
Iceland seem to be approaching their tournament debut with just the right attitude. Enjoy however long you’re in France and if it happens to be three games, then so be it. The glory of this newly expanded tournament format and having Hungry in their group realistically means that an appearance in the knock outs is well within Iceland’s grasp.
Iceland had a truly memorable qualifying campaign. Whilst the Dutch admittedly were a bit crap with their absence evident in France now, Iceland did manage to keep a clean sheet in either game, picking up 6 points against a stuttering Holland and with only two defeats to their name during qualifying, this is a side that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Whilst I would love to say Iceland’s key performer is the now 37 year old Eidur Gudjohnsen, all eyes will be on the midfield and in particular Gylfi Sigurdsson. Him and Aron Gunnarsson provide the legs in the centre of the park and fans of the Premier League will be more than aware of Sigurdsson’s ability. Whilst Sigurdsson’s spell at Tottenham may have been slightly ill-fated, his return to Swansea has seen him truly settle down once more as a true creative talent. Whilst his role in this Iceland side involves a little more defensive work, his talent from dead-situations or range make him a dangerous threat anywhere within 30 yards of the goal.
Portugal seems to be a side short of goals and Ronaldo will certainly be carrying a nation’s hopes on those perfectly formed shoulders once more. Iceland on the other hand are here for party and will come to play football, to enjoy their time in France and as such really could become the curveball in this group.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog