The opening Euro 2016 quarter-final encounter takes place on Thursday evening as Poland attempt to plough deeper into uncharted territory by defeating a Portugal side that will be determined to raise its game after labouring to this stage.
Whatever happens, this tournament can be looked back on as a success for Poland, but the feeling is that there is still more to come from them. Leading striker and captain Robert Lewandowski is still yet to live up to his billing and has rarely looked like getting on the scoresheet, while the man getting most of the chances, Arkadiusz Milik, is misfiring more often than not.
If anyone from an attacking perspective is producing the goods, it is the older hands of Jakub Blaszczykowki. The Borussia Dortmund star has shown an impressive touch during this competition, as well as consummate composure to find the back of the net in each of the last outings.
Defensively they have been extraordinarily solid, as Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan have proved almost impossible to penetrate but for a stunning moment of individual brilliance from Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri in their second round clash. A lot of credit must also go to holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, who looks as imperious as ever and never looked like missing the decisive penalty in the shootout against the Swiss.
It was a game where they were grateful for such a lottery, as they visibly tired towards the end of regular time and had to hang on by their fingernails in the extra 30 minutes. Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was needed to pull off some fine saves to keep them in it.
As their chances of reaching the last four, a lot will depend on how well Adam Newalka’s side go about limiting the effectiveness of Cristiano Ronaldo. If they can do that, then Portugal are there for the taking, and it will be down to Poland to exploit their many inadequacies; an area where Croatia failed miserably in the round of 16.
That was a hotly anticipated clash, but it ended up being among the most turgid in major tournament history. Ronaldo was subdued while both sides were incredibly charitable in possession. Worst of all was that it took 117 minutes for an attempt on target from either team – part of the move that led to the winning goal.
Ricardo Quaresma was understandably delighted with his achievement, but Portugal will surely have taken no pride whatsoever from the level of their performance. They should feel lucky to have made the quarter-finals, but will feel that there is a very real possibility of reaching the final, particularly being in what many agree to be the more favourable half of the draw.
If Ronaldo has another poor evening, it will be up to one of his teammates to step up and provide the inspiration. Here they are faced by a team of warriors that possesses strength in all areas of the pitch, so they will need to be at their best to reach a third semi-final in four European Championships.
That is unless Poland play as poorly as Croatia did….
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