Game of the Day: Poland vs. Portugal, Marseille, 20:00
All of a sudden, there is barely over 2 weeks left, just 7 games remaining (not counting third place play off), before the new larger-format Euros draw to a close. The quarter finals open with arguably the last two dark horses left in the competition, Poland and Portugal meeting in Marseille; (with everyone else classifiable as favourites or plucky outsiders). This may not be the most glamourous of the round, but could provide intrigue and quality between two evenly matched sides.
Despite the horrendous boredom of their victory over Croatia, and having gotten to this stage without winning a game in 90 minutes, Portugal appear to have rediscovered their tournament football instincts. This bodes well – managing to do just enough may get them a stage or two further in an open competition. Timing is all (as Croatia found out) and it seems slightly ominous that Ronaldo is finding form and (take note England) the players around him know how to play to his strengths. Ricardo Quaresma should get a start given his impact in the previous round and he may feel this is his last chance to mark an erratic career with international honours.
Poland were fortunate against a Switzerland side that seemed much more interested in avoiding penalties than Adam Nawalka’s team; while the Poles deserved their first half lead they then sat deep and were lucky to make ti through extra time. It may have taken the goal of the tournament so far from Xherdan Shaqiri to break their resolve, this is likely to be a wise approach with the attacking options available to Fernando Santos.
Poland do seem to recognise their strengths; built on defensive solidity and a genuine threat from their wide players Kamil Grosicki and Jakub Blaszczykowski, they will also be hoping that they can peak late and make the semi-finals. Much has been made of Robert Lewandowski’s failure to score as yet, but he is an unselfish forward and his work and ability to attract opposition defenders, moth-like to him, can allow space for Arkadiusz Milik to pull the strings. They also have strength from the bench with the likes of Piotr Zielinski and Bartosz Kaputska primed if extra time approaches once more.
Poland may feel they have the edge if the tie goes to penalties, having triumphed on spot kicks once already and of course the question will be whether Cristiano demands to wait until the fifth kick before stepping up; let’s hope it doesn’t come to this.
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog