Portugal saw off Poland on penalties in Marseille on Thursday to reach the semifinals of Euro 2016. Poland's Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring after just a couple of minutes, only for Renato Sanches to peg them back later in the first half. Portugal had the better of the play from thereon, though failed to take their chances and relied on a shootout to ensure their place in the final four.
Poland could hardly have made a better start to the match, breaking the deadlock after just a couple of minutes. Kamil Grosicki caught Portugal right-back Cédric napping underneath a high ball, and promptly delivered a lethal low cross into the penalty area. A brilliant run ensured Lewandowski found himself in the right place at just the right time, and he slotted the ball powerfully beyond Rui Patricio and into the back of the net.
Portugal could've been rattled, but to their credit, Fernando Santos' side steadied the ship. They started to settle on the ball, and forced Poland's defensive line ever deeper. However, with the exception of a strong penalty appeal when Cristiano Ronaldo was bundled over inside the box, they didn't give Poland's centre-halves too much to worry about.
When the equaliser did arrive, shortly after the half-hour mark, it was a combination of individual quality and good fortune. A powerful strike from Sanches on the edge of the area took a nick off the shoulder of Grzegorz Krychowiak on its way past Łukasz Fabianski, with Portugal's pressure finally telling. They continued to dominate through to the interval, though without any further reward.
There was little change in the game's flow in the second half, with Portugal continuing to see the lion's share of possession. Their best early second-half chance came when Nani drilled a dangerous ball into the Poland box, though Ronaldo lashed at thin air and the opportunity went begging. For the most part, they struggled to find a way through the massed Portuguese ranks, who showed little interest in finding a winning goal of their own.
They should've been punished inside the final five minutes of the 90, when a brilliant Ronaldo run was picked out by a fine João Moutinho chip. However, when clean through on goal the Portugal captain once again failed to make contact, allowing a grateful Fabianski to make a crucial catch. Portugal's profligacy and Poland's passivity ensured that extra time beckoned -- the second time in as many games for both teams.
For the first time in the match, Portugal looked a little lethargic after the game's second interval. After a couple of brief forays into the Polish half, their opponents began to enjoy sustained spells of pressure for the first time. However, their one attempt on goal came from an Arkadiusz Milik snapshot on the edge of the area which sailed comfortably wide. More dangerous was a low Lewandowski cross from the right, though none of his teammates arrived into the six-yard box in time to tap the ball home.
Things became increasingly ragged as the clock ticked on, though defences continued to triumph over attacks and the final whistle sounded with the game still tied. A penalty shootout was to follow.
The game's two poster boys stepped up first, with both Ronaldo and Lewandowski coolly converting their spot-kicks. Sanches and Milik also made no mistake, before Moutinho and Kamil Glik maintained the perfect record. It took until the fourth round of penalties for the sides to finally be separated, when Jakub Błaszczykowski couldn't match Nani's conversion and was denied by goalkeeper Rui Patricio. That left Ricardo Quaresma the task of sending Portugal through, and with a cool finish, he did just that.
Poland: Łukasz Fabiański; Artur Jędrzejczyk, Michał Pazdan, Kamil Glik, Łukasz Piszczek; Kamil Grosicki (Bartosz Kapustka 82'), Krzysztof Mączyński (Tomasz Jodłowiec 98'), Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jakub Błaszczykowski; Robert Lewandowski, Arkadiusz Milik.
Goals: Lewandowski (2').
Portugal: Rui Patricio; Eliseu, José Fonte, Pepe, Cédric; William Carvalho (Danilo Pereira 96'); Adrien Silva (João Moutinho 74'), Renato Sanches, João Mário (Ricardo Quaresma 80'); Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani.
Goals: Sanches (33').
1. Poland were too defensive (and Portugal should have made them pay)
That it is bad news to score early is a hackneyed footballing cliche, though it is games like this that offer some proof for the claim. From the minute they took the lead, Adam Nawałka's side dropped deep, effectively played with five midfielders -- nominal forward Milik dropped deep to leave Lewandowski completely isolated in attack -- and simply looked to soak things up. Things didn't change even after Portugal had netted an equaliser, with Poland no longer playing for a 1-0 win but instead just preserving parity. It certainly didn't make for great football, and had Portugal been a little less wasteful in front of goal, they would have run out comfortable winners.
2. Grzegorz Krychowiak is great
This will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen Sevilla over the last couple of seasons, though this was Grzegorz Krychowiak at his very best. Though Poland were disappointingly -- and, quite possibly, counterproductively -- negative in this match, there can be no denying that they were superbly organised. That was in no small part down to the organising qualities of their midfield general, who turned in a superb all-action display. He's been linked with moves to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Manchester United recently, and on the back of these performances, it's not hard to see why.
3. This is still not Ronaldo's tournament
Poor Cristiano. Whereas you can put a couple of misses down to bad luck, the number he added to his tournament tally on Thursday evening were more suggestive of an increasingly frustrating dip in form. Though he was certainly unfortunate to be denied a penalty in the first half, he twice had clear-cut chances in the second, and on one occasion ran in behind the Polish back line only to selfishly shank into the side-netting from a tight angle. Could it be that he's just trying too hard? Portugal supporters will certainly be hoping his spot-kick conversion will serve as a confidence booster heading into their next match against either Belgium or Wales.