Action shifts into top gear in France as the quarter-finals are set to begin this week. Stade Velodrome will host the clash between Poland and Portugal vying for a place in the Euro 2016 semi-finals. This encounter will be played on Thursday, June 30.
Poland was expected to do well at the Euros but their progress has not been serene. If anything, their progress to knockouts has been laborious with wins against Northern Ireland and Ukraine masking their struggles. In the first knockout match, they faced a stubborn Switzerland team that stretched the game to penalties. Poland started the match well and got a deserved lead just before half-time through the impressive Jakub Blasczykowski. But the Swiss didn’t give up and looked determined to square things up. Poland sat back on the lead and looked increasingly nervous until Xherdan Shaqiri put them out of misery through a wonderful goal. The ‘goal of the tournament’ contender brought the match back to level terms and it was all Switzerland in the extra time though they couldn’t get the decisive goal. Poland got lucky in the penalty shootout after a shocker from Granit Xhaka knocked Switzerland out of the tournament.
Somewhere beneath the results, Poland will be worried about the form of their talisman striker Robert Lewandowski who hasn’t hit a goal yet. On the positive side, they were able to turn things around even without contribution from the Bayern Munich forward.
Portugal have been through their own misery in the tournament with no wins and all draws in the group stage. It was only after the last game against Hungary that they could seal a knockout berth and that too as the best third-placed team. If their performance was poor in the group stages, it was abysmal in the knockout match against Croatia. Both teams were guilty of playing one of the worst games of the tournament which is typified by the fact that there was not a single shot on goal until the 117th minute. It looked as if both sides were waiting for the slow death through penalties until substitute Ricardo Quaresma put Portugal ahead. The match and the performance is not entirely surprising considering that Portugal were equally laborious against Poland and Iceland.
The struggles of Portugal are synonymous with that of their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. To be fair to him, Ronaldo’s brace against Hungary was the only highlight of Portugal’s campaign so far with the entire team looking far from convincing.
Poland are unbeaten in their last five matches alternating draws and wins and have lost just once in their last 13 encounters. During their last ten encounters, they have managed to notch six victories.
Portugal too are unbeaten in their last five matches but four of them are draws – including the regular time draw against Croatia. Their overall record in the last ten matches read four wins, two losses and four draws – not entirely comforting.
Key players and team news
Goalkeeper Wojcjech Szczesny will continue to miss out for Poland due to injury but his replacement Lukasz Fabianksi has been brilliant under the bars – especially against Switzerland. Bartosz Kapustka will be available for selection back from suspension and should slot in seamlessly into the starting XI. All eyes will be on Lewandowski to see if he can score a goal.
Portugal will have no enforced changes due to injuries but could recall Ricardo Quaresmo for a start following his impressive displays against Croatia and Hungary. Ronaldo will continue to be the fulcrum of their attacks.
Poland have been impressive at the back having conceded just one goal in the Euros so far – that too, a superlative strike by Shaqiri in the last match. Six of their previous ten matches have ended in clean sheets. Portugal too ended with five clean sheets in this period which means another goal less period during regular time is a possibility.
Poland scored more than a goal in just three of their last ten matches. Six matches in this period ended with under 2.5 goals. Portugal scored just one goal in normal time – not counting the deluge they had against Hungary. Six of their last ten matches have ended with under 2.5 goals. So, going for the same in this encounter is a safe option.
Poland look good to qualify and watch out for Lewandowski who may break his duck.
Poland to qualify at odds of 2.38 with Betfred.