Curiously, despite defeat in their opening game, Portugal go into their second match at Euro 2012 with a higher level of confidence than at the start of the competition.
Gloomy predictions regarding the Selecção’s chances of making it out of the group of death abounded in the lead-up to the Germany game, but the way Portugal more than matched many people’s tournament favourites on Saturday night has raised hopes that this team could yet have a significant role to play at the party.
There were plenty of positives to be taken from the unlucky defeat against Joachim Low’s team: the defence looked solid, Miguel Veloso dissipated all doubts as to whether he merits a place in the starting XI, Fabio Coentrao was back to his brilliant best, and the team showed tremendous togetherness as a sterling late rally just failed to translate into a deserved draw.
However, there was also further evidence of a problem that Portugal appear unable to shed - the inability to take their chances.
It was this familiar failing that ultimately undid them against Germany. And we need only look back at recent encounters between the Selecção and Wednesday’s opponents, Denmark, to see how much this acute problem has haunted the Portuguese in recent times.
The two nations were in the same qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup. In the first game in Lisbon the beauty of Portugal’s football was matched by farcical levels of profligacy. Leading 1-0, four different Selecção players contrived to miss one-on-ones against the goalkeeper, and a late collapse saw the Danes escape with a 3-2 victory despite being outplayed. In the return match in Copenhagen, it was a similar story. Portugal had THIRTY efforts at goal. Denmark had three. The result was 1-1.
Fate threw together the two countries again in Euro 2012 qualifying, with Portugal winning 3-1 at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto in Paulo Bento’s first game in charge, and losing 2-1 in Copenhagen.
So while one win in four matches is not the best of records, it’s fair to say that, based on chances created, only one of those games did Portugal not deserve to win. Unfortunately for Portugal, putting the ball in the back of the net is one skill required to make a successful football team. A rather important one at that.
As the famous ex-Poland striker Zbigniew Boniek told Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias on Monday: “If football was a game that did not involve goals, Portugal would have won the World Cup three times.”
The promising 20-minute cameo against Germany from the young Benfica striker Nelson Oliveira has had the Portuguese press calling for his inclusion in the starting XI in place of the hard-working but often ineffective Helder Postiga. Oliveira has undoubted talent but is still raw, and it will be surprising if the conservative Bento does not send out the exact same XI against Denmark as against the Germans.
Portugal have scored just one goal in their last four matches. “We just need to score one goal, then others will come,” Miguel Veloso said on Monday. Whether it be Helder Postiga, Nelson Oliveira or Hugo Almeida at No. 9, more than ever, Portugal desperately need Veloso’s words to be proven right.
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