PREVIEW - Quaresma revival gives Portugal new optimism
By Brian Homewood
REUTERS - The resurgence of mercurial forward Ricardo Quaresma has raised Portugal's hopes for Euro 2016 even though it is still far from certain whether he will start against Iceland on Tuesday.
Quaresma was given a rare start in the final warm-up match against Estonia on Wednesday and responded with a virtuoso performance, even overshadowing Cristiano Ronaldo, as Portugal hit seven goals without reply.
There was a "trivela", a "rabona" and a stunning dinked goal and his exuberance rubbed off on his team mates as Portugal played with a verve that was missing from their qualifying campaign when they ground out seven successive wins by single-goal margins.
Coach Fernando Santos must now decide whether he wants to throw the always unpredictable Quaresma into the Euro 2016 fray, which would almost certainly be at the expense of former Manchester United forward Nani.
An attack featuring Quaresma and Ronaldo would make Portugal one of the most entertaining teams in the tournament but Santos, the wily former Greece coach, was making no promises even after the win over Estonia. "It's not a case of Quaresma plus 10, it's Quaresma and another 22. There are 23 players in the squad and all have equal chances of playing but it's an excellent headache to have," he said.
Nani, who in complete contrast to Quaresma often suffers from a lack of self-confidence, remained unruffled as his place came under threat.
"I've never had a guaranteed place," he said. "I'm always prepared to fight for my place.
"It's not a good sign when you don't have to fight for your place. Our aim is to win the title and we have to believe in all the players."
Portugal will need all the creative talent they can muster in the Group F match in St Etienne against an Iceland side who are making their debut in a major tournament and are notoriously hard to break down.
Quaresma was raised at the Sporting Lisbon youth academy at the same time as Ronaldo and many felt then that Quaresma was the more likely of the pair to set the football world alight.
Instead, Ronaldo went on to become three-times world player of the year while Quaresma's misfortunes have included being kicked out of Turkish club Besiktas for indiscipline and missing out on three successive World Cups.
He has, though, always been a crowd pleaser and Portuguese fans will hope that he will finally get a chance to shine on the big stage on Tuesday.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)