As we near the business end of Euro 2016, the competition is expectedly heating up. With just 8 teams remaining, there is little room for error. The quarter finals are upon us, the first of which will see Portugal take on Poland at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
The first quarter-final will see 2 teams who have been below par till now. Both Portugal and Poland need to produce their A-game soon, in order to match the other teams in the fray. Here we take a look at five players who will have an impact on the result tonight:
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo:
Quite easily the most recognisable face in the footballing world, Ronaldo had a horrendous start to Euro 2016. Having missed a couple of gilt-edged chances against Iceland in their opening encounter, he fluffed his lines from the penalty spot against Austria.
But just when everyone felt the Portuguese superstar was nowhere near his best in this tournament, he provided a master-class against Hungary to drag Portugal into the round of 16. Ronaldo came up with an assist and 2 goals, one with a sublime back-flick which is the foremost contender for goal of the tournament currently.
When Portugal looked beat, down and out and completely devoid of ideas, the Real Madrid ace inspired his team to rally around him and earn a precious point to see them through to the next round. He was once again, quite subdued against Croatia in the round of 16, which was a very dull affair overall.
When at his best, as he proved against Hungary, Ronaldo is quite simply unstoppable. He can create goals out of nothing with moments of sheer brilliance. However, consistency has been his bane in Euro 20116 till now. Portugal will hope he can produce some moments of individual brilliance tonight, to get them into the semis.
#2 William Carvalho:
Although initially 2nd choice in the holding midfielders’ role behind Danilo, Carvalho’s display as a sub in Portugal’s opening match against Iceland saw him replace Danilo in that position for the subsequent matches. The Sporting Lisbon midfielder is a giant of a man, standing at 1.89 metres tall which makes him an excellent contender to deal with the aerial threat and physical presence of Robert Lewandowski.
The 24-year-old is a calm and controlling presence in the midfield, which is extremely useful given Portugal’s 4-3-3 formation which can be susceptible to counter attacks. A veteran of many a transfer saga, Carvalho has been wooed by many of Europe’s elite, who have taken a liking to his abilities to control the pace of the game in midfield.
Having been eligible for both Portugal and Angola, he chose Portugal. He made his debut in 2013, in a world cup qualification playoff match against Sweden. He has made 23 appearances since then. Carvalho was selected as the best player in the European Under 21 Championships of 2015 despite missing the crucial kick in the penalty shootout in the final against Sweden.
Portugal will be hoping for another imperious risk-free performance from the big man tonight.
#3 Andre Gomes:
Portugal have looked devoid of inspiration in midfield and down the flanks for the most part of Euro 2016, apart from Andre Gomes. While an ageing Joao Moutinho and a disappointing Nani have not provided much service to Ronaldo, and Ricardo Quaresma looking a complete misfit for such a high standard of football, Andre Gomes has shone brightly.
Gomes is nursing an injury at the moment and he may have to start the game on the bench. Portuguese fans will be hoping that he is fit enough to come off the bench and make an impact.
The Valencia midfielder is adept at playing down the flanks as well as through the middle. He has a superb passing range, Andre Gomes along with Joao Mario have shouldered the creative burden for Portgual, in the midfield, in Euro 2016.
His mature outlook would belie his tender age of just 22 years. Gomes burst onto the international scene in 2014, and has made 14 appearances since then, for Portugal. He has only recently become an important member of the team.
Andre Gomes has provided an assist and has 83% passing accuracy in the final third, respectable statistics given Portugal’s underwhelming gameplay till now in Euro 2016. However, Gomes will have to step his game up against Poland, to realise his true potential.
#4 Robert Lewandowski:
Lewandowski’s stats during Euro 2016 qualifying were absolutely out of this world. He was the top scorer with 11 goals, and his goal-scoring feats powered Poland into the finals. However, it seems a different Robert Lewandowski has turned up for Euro 2016, than the one who ran berserk through opposition defences in qualifying.
He has looked distinctly off-colour, devoid of hunger, disinterested and in genuine need of confidence. The Poland captain is yet to score in Euro 2016, which by itself is quite unimaginable. Maybe it is the pressure of leading the most talented Poland team in the history of the country, or maybe the rigours of a long club season have taken their toll on his body, the 27-year-old looks physically and mentally fatigued and substantially below the levels he has performed at for Bayern Munich over the past year.
For Poland to make a mark on the international stage, Lewandowski needs a significant upgrade in his current form.
#5 Jakub Blaszczykowski:
The only Polish player who can hold his head up and say he has been performing at a consistent level for Poland at Euro 2016, Blaszczykowski has been the creative force behind Poland’s run to the last 8. Linking up with Lukas Piszczek in a replica of their understanding down the right wing for Borussia Dortmund, Blaszczykowski has been in excellent form in the tournament.
Although not much of a dribbler, his pace and direct running at defenders have had opposition defences tearing their hair out. A very accurate crosser of the ball, Baszczykowski is the main supply line for the Polish front duo of Robert Lewandowski and Arek Milik.
Blaszczykowski boasts impressive stats in Euro 2016, having scored twice and assisted one goal. He likes to let fly when around the opposition’s box, and has taken 1.5 shots per game at Euro 2016, decent for a winger.
His passing success rate of 82.6% per whoscored.com is quite enviable too. Poland will be hoping he continues his rich vein of form tonight, which most definitely won’t be an enticing prospect for Portugal.