It has become increasingly possible to imagine Portugal with their name on the Euro 2016 trophy. After three draws at the group phase and a grubby last 16 win over Croatia, following extra-time, they entered this quarter-final having not played particularly well but having played well enough.
Fernando Santos’s team deserved to win here, having been the better team for most of the game and, when it came down to penalties, they made sure that they set up a semi-final against Wales or Belgium next Wednesday. After the Poland winger Jakub Blaszczykowski had his kick saved by a diving Rui Patrício, the Portugal substitute Ricardo Quaresma beat Lukasz Fabianski to spark delirium.
“It was enormous pressure and I had an entire country in my hands,” Quaresma said. “But I stayed positive and I knew I was going to score. I was very confident. We’re on the right track and we’re going to continue.”
Portugal had responded positively to going behind to Robert Lewandowski’s lethal finish and, but for a clutch of misses by Cristiano Ronaldo, they might have won much earlier. Ronaldo miskicked, air-kicked and miscontrolled when well placed on his three clearest opportunities.
It was a difficult night for him, although he opened the shoot-out by scoring with his penalty and the blot on it for him – and everybody – came in the 109th minute, when a man charged onto the field from behind one of the goals and sprinted towards him.
Ronaldo side-stepped him and the invader was quickly brought to ground by a rugby tackle from one of the chasing stewards. Six of them then lifted him up and removed him from the fray before, minutes later, a line of riot police moved into position behind the goal. It would be the one that hosted the penalties.
Poland had advanced to this tie after beating Switzerland in the last 16 on penalties – they scored with each of their kicks on that occasion – but their touch ran out with Blaszczykowski. They wanted to make history by reaching the last four at a major finals for the first time since the 1982 World Cup, but it was Portugal who imposed themselves.
It will be their fourth semi-final in the last five European Championships and their fifth in their past seven appearances. Under Santos they have not lost in 12 competitive games and their eight victories have each been by a single goal. There is a streetwise edge to them.
Ronaldo was central, if fitful, and it was Renato Sanches who was Portugal’s star. The 18-year-old, who has recently signed for Bayern Munich, equalised with a thumping left-footed shot from the edge of the area, which took a deflection off Grzegorz Krychowiak, and he stepped up to take his team’s second penalty. After a long wait, his conversion was nerveless.
Sanches showed strength, quick feet and wonderful balance on what was his first start at this championship. His transfer from Benfica to Bayern is worth an initial £27.5m but it could rise to £63m with add-ons. On this evidence, the Benfica accountants will be rubbing their hands.
The tie was shaped after 100 seconds, when Lewandowski scored the second-fastest goal in the competition’s history and his first at these finals. The Bayern striker’s finish from Kamil Grosicki’s low cut-back was defined by precision and timing. Grosicki had found the space to cross after Cédric Soares had misjudged the bounce of a cross-field ball. Poland flickered on the counter-attack and Lewandowski worked Patrício with one low shot in the first-half.
Portugal showed courage and Ronaldo had their best two moments while they trailed 1-0. After Michal Pazdan tried to nick Nani’s pass from him and failed, the chance opened up but Ronaldo shot straight at Fabianski while, on the half-hour, he should have had a penalty when Pazdan barged into him as he attacked a cross.
Santos played William Carvalho as the holding midfielder and the five in front of him interchanged positions constantly. Carvalho was booked for a pull on Krychowiak and he will be suspended for the semi-final.
Portugal played on the front foot and there would be further chances for Ronaldo. From another Nani pass, he banged a shot into the side netting while on the hour, he miskicked from Nani’s cross. Cédric also fizzed a shot past the far post from distance.
Arkadiusz Milik extended Patrício but it was Portugal who looked the more threatening. José Fonte headed at Fabianski while Artur Jedrzejczyk had a heart-stopping moment on 81 minutes when he stretched to cut out Pepe’s pass, which had been intended for Ronaldo, and diverted the ball inches past the far post.
Ronaldo’s best chance came in the 85th minute, when the substitute João Moutinho dinked the ball over the top of Poland’s defence only for the Real Madrid forward to spin, swing his left leg and miss the ball completely.
He might still have been berating himself for failing to control another chance inside the area at the start of extra time. The spectre of penalties clung to the additional 30 minutes. Portugal got the job done.
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