Why Punters could be prudent to cut Portugal and Ronaldo some slack at Euros
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | June 29, 2016
Anyone who watched Portugal’s extra-time win over Croatia last weekend will wish they could’ve just witnessed the thrilling conclusion to the additional half hour rather than suffering almost two hours of otherwise drab football.
While this bowling shoe ugly battle was played out, seemingly destined for penalties, it is no accident that Cristiano Ronaldo had huge involvement in the key moment that decided this Euro 2016 knockout tie.
Real Madrid’s top star from a galaxy of world-class talent is often accused of not being able to do the business for his country as well as club. How true is that assertion, though?
Nicknamed the Navigators, Portugal prodigy turned top performer Ronaldo is all-time leading scorer for both the Bernabeu boys and at international level.
Only France forward Antoine Griezmann (3/1) is more fancied than rampant Ronaldo at 11/2 with Coral to be tournament top scorer at the Euros.
Stats point to big contribution
During 2016 and ahead of the quarter-finals, Ronaldo has played 32 games for Los Blancos and the Navigators, with a combined tally 31 goals. You cannot ask for more than that average of effectively one per game from an attacker.
How is that broken down between club and country though? It is 26 strikes in 25 games for Real – essentially a goal per game – and five in seven caps for Portugal this year, which is a return of more than 70 per cent.
On top of this obvious goal threat that on international duty admittedly has seen Ronaldo only score in one Euro 2016 match (the group game against Hungary), he is consistently assisting whoever his teammates are.
Ronaldo’s 10 assists across those 32 outings, broken down to two in seven for the Navigators and eight in 25 at Madrid, means he is almost setting up goals for club and country colleagues around a third of the time.
More than one nifty Navigator
Those stats highlight that the quality of teammates around Ronaldo isn’t perhaps as significant as it first appears.
Bayern Munich-bound Renato Sanches certainly played with exuberance when brought on by Portugal boss Fernando Santos, leading the break from which Ronaldo found Ricardo Quaresma to head in a dramatic winner that crushed Croatia.
With such industry and energy surely demanding a starting XI spot from now on, a seasoned defence that includes dark arts masters Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe, plus the undoubted talent of Ronaldo up top, the Navigators remain in with every chance of going all the way at the Euros at 13/2.
Portuguese progress show tournament prowess
Although their record at World Cups is decidedly more mixed, this is the sixth successive European Championship that Portugal have reached the quarter-finals.
Santos thus has a side that may not be anything like as spectacular as the Euro 2004 vintage that were denied victory in the final on home soil by a Greece rearguard that shackled not only Ronaldo, but Pauleta, Nuno Gomes, Luis Figo, Deco and Rui Costa; yet is still capable of going far.
If punters remain unmoved over prevailing opinion that Europe’s elite will eventually thwart the Navigators, then the stage of elimination markets may appeal.
Poles and potentially Belgium await
Poland are Portugal’s quarter-final opponents, so if it’s Robert Lewandowski and company you’re siding with then an 11/8 price on Ronaldo and friends bowing out at this hurdle appeal.
With a mouthwatering battle between the legs of teenage talent Sanches and Polish battleaxe Grzegorz Krychowiak in midfield that could go either way and decide just how much support Santos’ youngster can provide Ronaldo, who plays as a striker for his country.
A potential Euros semi against Belgium could be on the cards, however, and there is more to like about the 21/10 on offer for the Navigators to fall at that penultimate hurdle – if Marc Wilmots’ golden generation can gel against a fellow heavyweight of continental football.
What if Belgium can’t become greater than the sum of their parts though? Could a second Euros final in a dozen years be on the cards? Portugal are 7/4 shots to reach that stage again where likely opponents would be one of tournament hosts France, World Cup winners Germany or dark horses Italy.
Savvy Santos tactics paying off
Portugal have traditional played variations of a 4-3-3, but given the dearth of centre forward options in these post Pauleta and Nuno Gomes days it is traditional widemen like Nani and Quaresma chosen by Santos as strike partners for Ronaldo.
Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga lumbered on leading the line without offering much for many years. This switch from orthodox central forwards to makeshift frontmen may seem unusual, but we’ve witnessed the power of the false nine with Barcelona at club level and the Navigators’ neighbours Spain on the international stage previously.
Ronaldo remains the man most likely to inspire something but, with Sanches showing he can be the star of tomorrow and players like Nani supporting him in a quirky fashion, Portugal remain in the hunt for Euro 2016 glory.