Portugal have advanced to the quarterfinals of UEFA Euro 2012, finishing second in Group B behind Germany. Based on reputation, it has to be tempting to say that Cristiano Ronaldo has carried this team on his back. While it’s true that Ronaldo was fantastic on Sunday against the Dutch, Portugal have gotten surprisingly balanced contributions from most members of the squad. Ronaldo can credit his teammates for putting him in a position to take them through to the knockout stages.
Nani has been tremendous. For the first two games, Ronaldo was one of the worst players on the pitch. He muffed chance after chance, including a howler when he was one-on-one against the Danish goalkeeper.
On the other side of the field, Nani picked his game up. He was great against Germany and continued that over into the next two games. He missed an easy chance when he slammed a shot straight into Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but his ball that set up Ronaldo’s second goal was delightful. At Manchester United he has demonstrated that he can perform on the biggest stages, and he certainly stepped up to help his country.
While the attacking talent suggests that Portugal should be able to score goals, their defensive efforts have actually been more impressive. Pepe and Bruno Alves have rarely been caught out of position, and it took a wonderful strike from Rafael Van der Vaart to beat Rui Patricio. Fabio Coentrão is a world-class attacking fullback, but he has had good positioning defensively in this tournament as well, while Joao Pereira has been solid on the other side of the field.
Portugal rightfully gets a reputation as an attacking side, but Miguel Veloso and João Moutinho have been stalwarts in the midfield. Nani and Ronaldo sometimes get caught upfield and fail to track back, but Miguel and Moutinho have been more than able to cover for them. They have provided a calming influence on the ball (Moutinho especially) and have been able to link the wingers with the back four very effectively. In addition, when Ronaldo has left free kicks for them, they have delivered dangerous crosses.
Helder Postiga has been much maligned over the past couple years, and most of it has been deserved. However, he stepped up when it mattered and delivered an important goal in the Denmark match. He was also dangerous in and around the penalty area against the Netherlands, and although he failed to tally any goals, his presence helped Ronaldo and Nani carve up the suspect Dutch defense.
The Portuguese manager was significant in his team’s advancing to the quarterfinals. The Dutch game was relatively straightforward, but his substitutions in the match with Denmark helped sway the result in Portugal’s favor. Varela scored the winning goal when nothing but three points would suffice, while Nelson Oliveira was impactful as soon as he got on the pitch in all three games.