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Portugal promise goals will start to flow

By Reuters - Jun 21,2016 - Last updated at Jun 21,2016

Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo (centre) and teammates take part in a training session at the team’s base camp in Marcoussis, south of Paris, on Tuesday, on the eve of their Euro 2016 Group F football match against Hungary (AFP photo by Francisco Leong)

No team managed as many shots as Portugal in their opening two games at Euro 2016, yet all they have to show for it are one goal, two points and a possible early exit from the competition.

One of the most technically gifted of the 24 teams, Portugal managed 50 goal attempts in their two games, featuring 17 on target, 17 off target and 16 that were blocked.

After Germany, they are also the team that has enjoyed the most possession, at an average of 62 per cent per match.

But poor finishing means they go into Wednesday’s Group F match against Hungary in third place and a distinctly uncomfortable position.

Only a win over the unbeaten Hungarians will take them into the last 16 without depending on other matches.

Hungary, meanwhile, need a draw to make sure of a top-two finish although even if they lose they could qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been one of Portugal’s biggest culprits, missing an easy chance late in the 1-1 draw with Iceland and firing a penalty against the post late in the Austria match.

Portugal’s players have offered little insight into what is going wrong, saying merely that if they keep trying, the goals will start flowing eventually.

“We did everything well, but once again the ball didn’t go in... what can you say?” said Nani after the goalless draw against Austria on Saturday.

Coach Fernando Santos said that a more ruthless approach is required.

“Sometimes, I get the feeling that we are ashamed about being ugly, or not being pretty. If we have to be ugly and that brings us efficiency, we have to be ugly,” he said.

“I’m ugly by nature and I don’t mind being even uglier.”

 

Shot-shy Sweden

 

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois may wonder whether he even needs to turn up to face Sweden on Wednesday given his opponents’ dismal attacking record.

The Swedes have failed to muster a single shot on target in their first two games, a statistic made all the more embarrassing by the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their attack.

Their only goal so far was scored for them by Ireland’s Ciaran Clark in a 1-1 draw but they have singularly failed to exploit Ibrahimovic’s presence and they are now in danger of a second successive group stage exit.

A draw at Nice’s Allianz Riviera in the Group E match would send Belgium to the last 16 alongside already-qualified Italy and almost certainly send the Swedes scuttling home.

A Swedish win would take them above Belgium and ensure second place providing Ireland did not beat Italy.

Forward Marcus Berg said that the statistics were not a fair reflection of their performances.

“I understand that from outside, it’s black and white, but for us it’s a little grey too. But now it has become an issue,” he said.

One of Sweden’s problems has been that Ibrahimovic has often dropped back into midfield so that he is no longer available to receive the ball in attack.

Midfielder Kim Kallstrom’s performances have suggested that, at 33, his role as a box-to-box midfielder is a little ambitious. The Swiss-based player has performed his defensive duties well but has had little to offer in attack.

Winger Emil Forsberg has been largely anonymous in both games after both Ireland and Italy managed to close him down completely.

Sweden are also searching for a suitable partner for Ibrahimovic after neither John Guidetti, who started alongside him against Italy, nor Berg himself, against Ireland, performed the role effectively.

Coach Erik Hamren acknowledged the problem although he did not give any clues about changes.

 

Under-strength Italy

 

For Ireland to reach the knockout stages they must achieve something they haven’t done in 28 years — win a game at the European Championsip.

Martin O’Neill’s team face an Italian side already guaranteed victory in Group E and manager Antonio Conte is likely to field many of his reserves, but it remains to be seen if Ireland can end their long winless streak in this must-win game.

Group rivals Sweden and Belgium meet at the same time, with the Swedes aiming to finish second in the group by beating the side who hammered Ireland 3-0 last time out.

But Ireland could also take that spot behind Italy if they win and pip Sweden on goal difference. An Irish victory and a draw between Belgium and Sweden could also see Ireland through as a third-placed team.

It’s a long time since Ireland managed such a heroic feat at the Euros.

Since then they have only qualified for the finals once — their disastrous Euro 2012 campaign under Giovanni Trapattoni, when they lost to Croatia, Spain and Italy to become the first team eliminated.

Four years on there was enough in the first hour of their 1-1 draw against Sweden to suggest that they could upset a few teams, but the Belgium defeat brought expectations crashing back down to earth.

Nor can they expect any favours from Italy, with Azzurri midfielder Marco Parolo telling the Irish they won’t be taking it easy on them.

“To end the group stage with nine points would be extra proof of our strength and character,” he told the Italian FA’s website.

“We want all three points.”

 

Iceland stick with counter-attacking style

 

Should tournament debutants Iceland reach the knockout stages of Euro 2016 by securing the result they need against Austria on Wednesday, much credit will go to a dentist and a film director.

Iceland, with a population of about 330,000, are the smallest country ever to qualify for the Euros, yet have been undaunted by their casting as minnows, holding Portugal and Hungary to 1-1 draws in Group F through resilient displays.

That means a win, or perhaps another draw, against Austria, will put Iceland into the knock-out stages, a fairytale outcome which could make for an excellent movie script.

Goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson would be the ideal judge of that, having halted his film career to become a full-time professional in 2014, first in Norway and then the Netherlands.

Halldorsson, who directed the video for Iceland’s 2012 Eurovision song contest entry, has made 14 saves — the most by any keeper at the tournament, but the 32-year-old’s game is about much more than just shot stopping.

Against Portugal, he tried 28 passes — of which 27 went long — which was the second most from any Iceland player and against Hungary, his 35 attempted passes were more than any teammate.

These are statistics that reflect the pressure Iceland resisted in those two matches as they averaged 33.5 per cent possession, the lowest at the Euros.

 

“If someone had given us the option of having this position before the tournament we would have gladly taken it,” joint-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told a news conference.

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