Misfiring Portugal in urgent need of Cristiano Ronaldo's fireworks against Denmark

Captain must rediscover his hot streak against Denmark to avoid elimination

Opalenica

After a creditable but ultimately fruitless performance in their opening match of Euro 2012 against Germany, the requirement for Portugal is simple when they face Denmark in Lviv. A win is imperative, "so we'll only need to depend on ourselves," as Nani put it earlier this week.

What is less simple is working out where the goals to fashion this victory will come from. Portugal have not only failed to win in four games so far in 2012, they have only scored once in doing so – an individual effort by Nani in a recent home defeat by Turkey.

It is a perplexing situation, especially considering the freedom with which Portugal have generally played since Paulo Bento took over in October 2010 after Carlos Queiroz's ragged reign. Real brio had been required to rectify a desperate situation in one of the short qualifying groups. Subsequently, Portugal scored 37 times in Bento's first 13 games, including a 6-2 play-off thrashing of Bosnia-Herzegovina to clinch a place at this summer's tournament, a 4-0 beating of Spain and a resounding 3-1 win over today's opponents, Denmark, on Bento's debut as Portugal coach.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain, was one of the major beneficiaries of the Bento bump. The Real Madrid man had endured a miserable spell under Queiroz, scoring just twice in two years – a penalty in a friendly against Finland and another against North Korea in the 2010 World Cup – but sparked immediately under Bento, hitting nine in the new coach's first 10 competitive matches.

Ronaldo has been an ebullient presence at Portugal's training base in Opalenica, near Poznan, speeding around with his customary feverish commitment. He is a far happier man with the national team now than the one who stalked off the pitch, long-faced, after elimination by Spain in Cape Town two years back. He has known Bento for more than a decade, when the coach was a senior pro at Sporting Lisbon and Ronaldo was a youth player. Bento is straightforward and forthright – qualities that Ronaldo respects – and immediately positioned his skipper in his preferred position on the left side after taking over.

So where were the fireworks against Germany? There is little doubt that Portugal's caution left Ronaldo a little marginalised. "We had to respect Germany – they're one of the best teams in the world," insisted midfielder Miguel Veloso, like Ronaldo and Nani a product of the legendary Sporting academy. "Defending is an important part of the game."

If Ronaldo's performance was encouraging rather than explosive, he was far from the isolated figure he had been under Queiroz, and he almost set up a late equaliser for Nani. Ronaldo hasn't, of course, become any more accepting of defeat, and was criticised in some sections of the Portuguese media for not running over to greet the travelling fans after the final whistle. Nani stood up for his team-mate, claiming Ronaldo had rushed off to see the physiotherapist after feeling "a small back pain," though Nani's subsequent comments were more telling: "Everybody reacts differently [to defeat]. He's an excellent captain."

Many in Portugal believe the real problem is in the centre, and would like Helder Postiga replaced by Nelson Oliveira after the latter's excellent cameo against Germany. "I'm used to the critics by now," the former Tottenham striker, Postiga, said yesterday. He also has the backing of Bento, who confirmed "Helder will play". Postiga can point to an international goalscoring record comparable to that of Wayne Rooney. Yet, ultimately, it will come down to which is the better foil for Ronaldo, and Postiga is under pressure to prove it is him.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz