Poland lock horns with Portugal in the first quarter-final clash of Euro 2016 at Stade Velodrome, Marseille on Thursday, 30th June.
Portugal are looking forward to book a spot in the semi-finals of European Championships for the fourth time in five attempts, but standing on their way would be the Polish side who have reached the quarter-final for the first time in their footballing history.
For both Portugal and Poland, their journey to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals has been far from being impressive.
Portugal reached the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage with 3 points from 3 matches. Portugal had a disappointing start to their campaign as they were held to a 1-1 draw against Iceland in their opening fixture and failed to secure a win in their next two matches which includes a goalless draw against Austria, followed by a thrilling encounter with Hungary where Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Portugal came from behind twice to pull off a 3-3 draw against Hungary.
Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to stand up to the occasion in Thursday’s quarter-final clash and he is just one goal away from breaking Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in the European finals. The Portuguese legend has already broken the competition record for the maximum number of appearances for a national side.
The Portuguese side along with their coach Fernando Santos, have drawn a lot of criticism from fans and critics for their negative approach in the last-16 clash against Croatia in which both the teams had no shot on target within the regulation time. Portugal had to battle it out in extra-time when Quaresma’s decisive header in the 117th minute came as a blessing to seal Portugal’s spot in the quarters as they managed to beat Croatia 1-0.
However Portugal star forward Nani has full faith on the methods employed by coach Fernando Santos as he rubbished the claims that that Santos’ tactics have turned the team turgid. He believes that the quarter-final against Poland will be a tough battle but also entertaining for the fans at the same time.
“I think we have played good games, putting on a spectacle and against Hungary we scored a lot of goals – but, of course, it will not be possible to do this in all games,” said Nani.
“For me, it is one of the best moments of the national team. The group is excellent, young, all demonstrating team spirit, all pulling in the same direction and this has been one of the factors that shows we are stronger. We have all the conditions to go as far as possible.”
Nani is confident that his team has enough potential to put up a strong show against Poland and expects a tough battle against Adam Nawalka’s defensively strong Poland in Marseille on Thursday.
“The game does not have a favourite. We know that Poland is a very strong team, with experienced players,” he explained.
“We have to be at our best, to go in with the confidence to try and win the game.”
On the contrary, Poland have some positives to take up from their Euro 2016 journey so far. Although they didn’t display much attacking prowess in the group stages and the last-16 encounter but they have managed to earn the reputation of a rock-solid defensive squad to watch out for. Poland have conceded just one goal in four matches so far and has managed to find the net thrice.
Adam Nawalka’s men started their campaign with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland followed by a heroic display in a goalless draw against World Champions Germany. Jakub Blaszczykowski’ s goal in the 54th minute helped Poland beat Ukraine 1-0 in their final group stage encounter as they finished second in Group C with 7 points and sealed a last-16 encounter against Switzerland.
In the last-16 clash, Poland took the lead after 39 minutes, with winger Jakub Blaszczykowski sliding the ball past Swiss keeper Yann Sommer from close range. However too much defensive tactics into play saw them conceding a goal in the 82nd minute as Xherdan Shaqiri made it 1-1 with a thrilling overhead kick from 18 meters.
Robert Lewandowski converted from the spot in the 5-4 shootout win over Switzerland, but the Bayern Munich star has drawn a lot of criticism as he is yet to find the net and has only two shots on target so far. Lewandowski scored 13 goals in 10 qualifying matches and has 42 goals to his name for Bayern Munich last season. However the striker has failed recreate his club form and is yet to fire in the on-going Euro Championships.
Nawalka feels that the opposition defenders has been too rough on Lewandowski but the Poland assistant coach Hubert Malowiejski is confident that the Bayern Munich star will be at his best against Portugal.
“We are not worried about Robert, not at all,” he said. “Of course he felt some pain after that match, but there is not even the slightest bit of doubt he will be ready for Portugal.
Wojciech Szczesny feels that the match against Portugal will be a thrilling batlle as both the sides have enough talent to book a place in the semi-finals. Szczesny accentuated that Portugal is not all about Cristaino Ronaldo and they have enough talent with the likes of Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and youth sensation Renato Sanches.
“I would like to have Cristiano Ronaldo in the Poland team, even if not in his best form, but Portugal is not just Ronaldo. They are a strong team,” Szczesny said.
“If I were to draw attention to one name, it would be Renato Sanches – [he has played] mainly from the bench, but he caused a lot of problems and has high quality.”
Szczesny expressed doubts over making a return from the injury he suffered in Poland’s opening fixture aginst Northern Ireland. However Lukasz Fabianski has been impressive with the gloves in Poland’s last three encounters as was only beaten by a sensational Xherdan Shaqiri bicycle kick in the last 16 encounter aginst Switzerland.
“It is difficult to say if I can go out and help the team with little more than one full training session completed,” he added. “I am able to deal with the pain, but the injured muscle is not perfect yet. I just want to help the team in whatever way I can.”
“I would not be able to help the team as Lukasz does at the moment, so of course I will not play against Portugal. I will try to support the team from the bench,” concluded Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This will be Poland and Portugal’s third encounter at a major tournament and their first in the European Championship. They have one win apiece so far: 1-0 to Poland at the 1986 World Cup and 4-0 to Portugal at the 2002 World Cup.
– Portugal are unbeaten in their 11 competitive fixtures under Fernando Santos (W8, D3), all eight of their wins in that run being decided by a single goal, including the extra-time win over Croatia.
– Portugal have picked up three yellow cards at Euro 2016, the fewest among the teams to have made it to the quarter-finals.
– Robert Lewandowski scored in the 17th minute of his first game at Euro 2012 against Greece. Since then, he has failed to find the net or deliver an assist in the competition in 643 minutes.
– Jakub Blaszczykowski has been directly involved in all five of Poland’s goals in the last two Euro tournaments (three goals, two assists).
– Cristiano Ronaldo has played in more games than any other player in the European Championship finals (18). He’s now only one goal short of Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in the competition.
– Ricardo Quaresma is the most prolific substitute so far at Euro 2016, with one assist (v Hungary) and one goal (v Croatia) after coming off the bench.
Lukasz Fabianski is set to continue in goal with Wojciech Szczesny still struggling with a thigh injury.
Milik has been out of shape in all the 4 games as he missed numerous chances, and will need to be more active and up front.
Poland possible XI: Fabianski, Piszczek, Glik, Pazdan, Jedrzejczyk, Blaszczykowski, Krychowiak, Maczynski, Grosicki, Milik, Lewandowski.
Ricardo Quaresma will be hopeful of making a start after his decisive header in the 117th minute against Croatia which sealed Portugal’s spot in the quarters.
Renato Sanches will also be looking to make the cut in the playing XI as he played a pivotal role in anchoring the Portuguese midfield after coming off the bench in all the last 4 fixtures.
Portugal possible XI: Rui Patricio, Soares, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, Joao Mario,, Adrien Silva, Carvalho, Renato Sanches, Nani, Ronaldo.
Predicted score: Poland 1-0 Portugal
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT
When and where to watch
The match will be broadcast live on ESPN2, ITV1, with coverage from 19:15 BST.