Portugal head into their final Euro 2016 group stage clash against Hungary at the Stade de Lyon knowing that nothing short of a win will suffice on Wednesday evening.
On paper, this seemed like a very straightforward quartet, and both Portugal and Austria were supposed to cruise through without much fuss. However, as we all know, football is a finicky thing and that is what makes it the world’s most popular sport.
Still, no one anticipated Fernando Santos’s side sitting in third spot with just two points from their opening two matches. No one anticipated that Portugal would need a win in order to avoid an embarrassing early exit. No one anticipated that Cristiano Ronaldo would be firing blanks and even miss a penalty. And finally, no one anticipated that Hungary would have already sealed qualification with one match to go.
But such is the situation that Portugal face ahead of this game. Cristiano Ronaldo has cut a frustrated figure so far and has yet to open his account. The 31-year-old certainly didn’t earn himself any friends in Iceland after his snarky comments following Portugal’s surprise draw with the minnows. And he is under increased pressure, both on a personal level as well as for his team.
CR7 is still in contention to become the first player to score at four Euro tournaments. His competitor for this record, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been equally disappointing, and it will be very interesting to see if either score on Wednesday. As his nation’s all-time top goalscorer and the most capped player, the spotlight will be firmly on Portugal’s skipper. Despite everyone stating that it’s not all about Cristiano Ronaldo, everyone knows it is. Just like Sweden’s talisman is Ibrahimovic and Wales’s main man is Gareth Bale. Poland’s star player is Robert Lewandowski, whilst Slovakia turn to Marek Hamsik for inspiration.
Of the five aforementioned players, only Bale and Hamsik have made any kind of impact so far. In any case, Santos has some concerns for this game. Both combative defender Pepe and Ricardo Quaresma will miss the next game if they pick up another card. In addition, both Andre Gomes and Raphaël Guerreiro are doubtful due to thigh strains.
As for Hungary, they truly have impressed. First, they overpowered Austria 2-0 to shock fans and neutrals. Although they couldn’t pick up all three points against plucky minnows Iceland, Storck’s side have done enough to book a spot in the round of 16. The same does not apply, of course, to Portugal and Austria. Both teams, viewed as the heavy favorites, now are in serious danger of crashing out, whilst Hungary and Iceland represent Group F in the next round.
In terms of head to head record, Portugal have won all five competitive matches between the two sides. The last tournament meeting was at the 1966 World Cup, where Portugal defeated Hungary 3-1. Later this year, they will clash as each vie for a spot in the 2018 World Cup.
Of course, records and statistics are just that – records and statistics. For Portugal, they have been absolutely dismal. 50 shots have yielded just one goal. Yes, this tournament has not seen as many goals as past editions, but their profligacy has been simply shocking. This is something that will not suffice should they get through to the next round.
And the way Hungary have fared, they definitely will be fancying their chances at snatching an unprecedented win. Will Portugal – and Cristiano Ronaldo – be able to get back on track to avoid an early exit?