The movie-star grin Cristiano Ronaldo had worn throughout became a grimace after 80 minutes when the Portugal captain smacked a penalty he had just won against Austria’s right-hand post and to safety.
A later headed finish chalked off for offside emphasised this was not his night and this second successive draw leaves Portugal with only two points and needing to beat Hungary in their final group match on Wednesday.
Fernando Santos refused any questions about Ronaldo, citing the old line about only talking team, not individuals. But the coach said: “The players cannot be anxious. Of course, we’re going through a tough time right now, but we can’t wallow in out misery. We have a final on 22 June. This is our first of these Euros. We’re going to accentuate the positive, we can’t concentrate on what we missed, this is all football, the next match is a final for us.”
Earning a record-breaking 128th cap, Ronaldo’s mission was simple: lead Portugal to a first victory in this second Group F outing to hand them control of their route into the last 16. Hungary’s late equaliser against Iceland made them leaders of the section with four points, a tally Portugal could match by defeating Marcel Koller’s men before facing them.
Santos made two changes from the 1-1 draw with Iceland, the nation Ronaldo generously described as having a “small mentality” for their perceived negative approach. Out went Danilo and João Mário and in came William Carvalho and, most interestingly, Ricardo Quaresma. Asked in the buildup if Ronaldo, Nani and the 32-year-old could play together, Santos said it was possible, and by the first half’s close the decision was vindicated.
For Austria Aleksandar Dragovic was ruled out after he was sent off in the loss to Hungary. In came Sebastian Prödl in the defender’s place, the striker Marc Janko was dropped for Marcel Sabitzer, and Zlatko Junuzovic’s ankle injury meant a midfield berth for Stefan Ilsanker.
William Carvalho was an early influence for his team. A pass he sprayed on a left-right diagonal initiated a move that ended with Nani spooning a clear header high.
Quaresma was also in the match as early as Santos would have asked. The winger was chided when refusing to find Ronaldo when he raced down the right. But the one-time Chelsea loanee would be a factor all the way to the break. So, too, his side, as the contest’s dominant force.
What Austria did not need was their goalkeeper, Robert Almer, to concede a corner by whacking the ball straight into Martin Hinteregger. Ricardo Carvalho rose highest to its delivery but the header went wide.
Ronaldo had scored at each of his previous three European Championships for a tally of six. He was about to miss a golden chance to register at a fourth finals. William Carvalho hit Raphaël Guerreiro down the left and he engineered a one-two with Nani before finding Ronaldo. It seemed about to be 1-0 to Portugal and Euros strike No7 for the No7 but the side-boot finish missed to Almer’s right.
Portugal were a red torrent Austria could not stop. Nani was again the man who should have punished them but the former Manchester United forward crashed a header against the right post.
As the half neared its end Ronaldo saw the ball bounce as he lurked in Austria’s area. The angle caused him to hop then volley, but there was no power in the effort, and Almer collected.
Despite their dominance, Portugal were actually lucky not to head into the break trailing. David Alaba smashed a free-kick past Rui Patrício towards the right corner and only Vieirinha’s intervention prevented a goal.
Austria started the second half in the same vein. Ilsanker punched a hole in midfield, roved through it, and banged in a shot that required a Patrício save to his left.
Ronaldo was not in the match enough so he might have dropped deep to drive at Austria. Perhaps, though, this element of a stellar talent is waning as time marches on, a player whose on-field clock shows thousands of miles.
Then came a reminder of the frightening powers Ronaldo possesses. Given a quarter-sight of the ball he propelled his left foot through it to Almer’s left and the keeper made a fine save. From the subsequent corner Ronaldo now rose high like a champion pole vaulter sans pole and headed towards Almer, who thwarted him again.
Ronaldo has never scored via a free-kick at these finals and he was once more errant with the two he tried. The second was within 30 yards but, like the earlier one, that came from longer range, the ball sailed into the humid Paris air and did not worry Almer.
Koller’s side have only a point but a chance of qualifying, too, if they can beat Iceland. “We have a final on Wednesday,” he said. So, too, as Santos offered, do Ronaldo and his team.
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