Portugal pack a powerful punch
Runners-up last time around, Scolari's team make a flying start inspired by the genius of Ronaldo and some slick finishing
Sunday 08 June 2008
Cristiano Ronaldo, having spent the last few days tantalising Manchester United and Real Madrid as to his intentions, turned his attention to more pressing matters here last night, this time tormenting Turkey as his team Portugal brought the tournament to life. It sorely required the kind of vibrant performance that Luiz Felipe Scolari's men brought to the Euro 2008 party after an indifferent first half here and a forgettable start to the tournament in Basel.
For many performers, the will-he-won't-he circus surrounding Ronaldo's future would scarcely be an ideal backdrop to playing in a major tournament. But for the 23-year-old, who boasts eight goals in 13 Euro 2008 qualifiers and swept the board with awards in England, the intense speculation clearly yields no kind of distraction, as Scolari later agreed. "I expected Cristiano to play like he did," reflected the Portugal coach insouciantly.
It was a performance which started with the United midfielder in an all too familiar pose, on his backside, after an early challenge. It ended with him as the Portugal captain, celebrating an emphatic victory. He acquired the captaincy in the 69th minute when Nuno Gomes was taken off, and his coach said: "I gave him the armband to give him more power and motivation." As if he needed any.
Initially, it had been a frustrating first half for Portugal, notably when a free-kick towards half-time rebounded off the far post. But Ronaldo also gave a hint of what was to ensue when he forged forward with one weaving run, culminating in an unusually tame shot.
Turkey, who had Colin Kazim-Richards cautioned early for a foul, had been efficiently organised and on a night of attempted containment, denied Portugal early on with an offside trap into which Simao Sabrosa, in particular, was all too eager to stray. There was also some desperate last-ditch challenges to frustrate Scolari's men. Cetin Servet got in a vital block to thwart Ronaldo as he was poised to strike. But in the second half, Ronaldo truly illuminated proceedings with a contribution to both goals. He also laid on an opportunity for Nuno Gomes, who struck the bar. That said, it was with a certain irony that the opener should arrive from a possible future team-mate of Ronaldo, Real Madrid's Pepe – the one player among the Portugal back four not in the employ of Chelsea, though on this evidence they would dearly like to acquire him – in a second half in which Scolari's men simply accelerated away from their opponents. Substitute Raul Meireles added a second in the dying seconds.
This tournament may be England-free, but it is far from lacking interest for followers of English clubs. Chelsea fans would relish Portugal advancing to the final. Their powerful rearguard contained Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and the club's new acquisition, Jose Bosingwa. Portugal also boast a midfield that is "the envy of almost every team in Europe", according to Scolari. The only doubt surrounding Portugal's capability to progress is their lack of potency up front.
Fortunately for Portugal, that man Ronaldo tends to compensate, and a viciously struck free-kick, touched on to the far post by Demirel Volkan was the closest his team came to a goal before the break. Pepe thought he had scored when his powerful header had eluded the Turkey goalkeeper, but he had not noticed that the assistant had long flagged for a foul.
At half-time, though Hamit Altintop had produced Turkey's only effort, a shot which flashed wide, it was defensively job completed by Fatih Term's side against the group favourites.
Portugal raised the tempo significantly in the second half, and could have enjoyed a generous harvest. In an early attack, Simao was fouled by Gokhan Zan just outside the box, for which the defender was cautioned, and when the ball ran free Nuno Gomes contrived to strike the post with the goal at his mercy.
But Portugal were in merciless mood. Just after the hour, Ronaldo found Pepe marauding forward and he swapped passes delightfully with Nuno Gomes before pushing the ball past Volkan. This time the celebrations could continue.
The goal served to galvanise Portugal even further. Ronaldo's sublime cross was met by Nuno Gomes' header, but for the third time the ball rebounded off the woodwork. Ronaldo was not done, he and Joao Moutinho set up Meireles for the second.
"We showed great tactical and physical quality," said Scolari. "When a team shows this dynamism and keeps its shape it is difficult to criticise. Now we are 50 per cent on the way to progressing from the group."
Turkey were well beaten. They had a penalty appeal turned down when Nihat Kahveci went down under a challenge, and substitute Emre Asik had a free header but pulled the chance wide. This was Portugal's night. Ronaldo's night at the end of a week he has dominated. No change there then.
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