Tonight (30th of June) will see the first of the Euro 2016 quarter-finals taking place. Poland play Portugal in the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille with kick-off at 8 p.m Irish time.
Poland have reached the quarter-finals in the European Championships for the first time in their history. Despite two 3rd place finishes in the 1974 & 1982 World Cups and an Olympic gold in 1972 , they have only qualified for two European Championships prior to this one.This includes their automatic qualification as hosts in 2012. Their international team has struggled since the late 80’s. They will hope their current progress will kickstart a return to their glory days.
Poland finished second in the qualifying campaign for the Euro’s ahead of Ireland. They were drawn in a tough group with Germany , Northern Ireland and Ukraine. They again managed to qualify in second place with 2 wins and a draw.
Portugal have a bit more experience in the European Championship, having reached at least the quarter-finals on every occasion for the last 20 years, including being runners-up against Greece in 2004. They powered through the qualifying campaign with 7 wins and only 1 loss and yet they have only managed to scrape through the group stages after 3 straight draws. A draw within 90 minutes in the last 16, means Portugal have yet to win a game in normal time at this tournament.
Both side will look to their respective superstars to produce tonight. For Poland, they will be hoping their captain Robert Lewandowski can find his scoring boots. The Bayern Munich forward was in lethal form during the qualifying campaign, leading the overall goalscoring charts with 13 goals. He has yet to score in this tournament however and will need to be at his best to make the difference tonight. It would be unwise to think of Poland as a one man team however. They rely on several experienced players including Borussia Dortmund winger Jakub Błaszczykowski who has already scored twice including a goal against Switzerland in the last 16. Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik and Swansea City goalkeeper Lukasz Fabiański are some more well-known players in the squad who will be looking to make the difference tonight.
For many, the Portuguese team seems to revolve around their star man Cristiano Ronaldo. Often argued to be the best in the world, The 3 time Ballon d’Or winner has no shortage of medals or trophies. What he has lacked however, is success with his national team. Much like his long time rival Lionel Messi, international trophies continue to elude him. They will both go down in history as two of the greatest of our time, but history may ask questions on their greatness given their considerable lack of success on the international scene. When we talk of Pele , Maradona , Beckenbauer, Brazilian Ronaldo, or even Zidane, they have all found success on the international scene.
Ronaldo has been seen as a frustrated figure during this tournament, he was visibly annoyed after his side’s 1-1 draw against Iceland and their bore draw against Austria. He finally sparked into life with a fantastic brace against Hungary in the final game. Three draws were luckily enough to see Portugal through to the last 16 where they needed a late goal in the second half of extra-time to dispose of Croatia. Portugal can not afford to rely on Ronaldo showing up to get them through against Poland. Already people are wondering if we are beginning to see a slight decline in Ronaldo. They have a squad that should be able to cope without the talent of Ronaldo. Former Manchester United striker Nani has already scored twice in this tournament. They also have veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho, Monaco midfielder João Moutinho and Real Madrid defender Pepe are very experienced players who must step up in order for Portugal to proceed to the semi-finals.
It will be a hard fought match tonight with no clear favourite, extra time looks likely. With Portugal’s form often relying on Ronaldo it may come down to whether or not the worlds former most expensive player shows up. Aged 31 now he may not have a better opportunity for international success again.
Babylon Radio Predication: 1-1 (Portugal AET)
Poland and Portugal meet tonight in the semi-final at the Stade Vélodrome at 8:00 pm Irish Time.