Premier League

Portugal are living a Man Utd nightmare

Portugal v Slovenia: Round of 16 - EURO 2024

On talent alone, Portugal might have the strongest squad at Euro 2024.

They have all the right profiles and all the right players. They’re flexible and they’re ready. And yet they continue to serve up dross.

The Selecao are into the quarter-finals but only for the saving grace of Diogo Costa, who kept out three Slovenia penalties in the deciding shootout of their last 16 tie and denied Benjamin Sesko in the last embers of extra-time.

At the centre of Portugal’s attention for over 120 minutes was Cristiano Ronaldo. Because of course he was.

Two hours of football saw the Selecao try and spoon-feed their petulant captain. If it wasn’t on a plate, he wasn’t eating it. And even when it was pristinely delivered, he blew it away again.

Ronaldo’s 105th-minute penalty miss didn’t even sum up his night. The spot kick was actually good, but Jan Oblak’s save was better. It was the best shot the 39-year-old has mustered up all tournament.

Either side of that singular infamy, Ronaldo sulked and stropped across the frontline waiting for a ball that wouldn’t come. His team needed him to provide more against Slovenia’s admirably stubborn defence, who were ultimately quicker to sniff out danger than he was.

Portugal v Slovenia: Round of 16 - EURO 2024

Ronaldo couldn’t find a way through / Anadolu/GettyImages

It reduced Ronaldo’s upside to an alarming degree. He would miss four free-kicks – including one from an angle so tight you’d be forgiven for thinking he was doing a comedic bit – and did little to pull Slovenia to-and-fro.

On paper, Portugal’s starting front four of Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Rafael Leao, plus Diogo bloody Jota off the bench, has everything you’d want in an attack, but the efforts of one man are undermining the team.

There are no two ways about it. Ronaldo is suffocating a capable and cultured football team, and they are walking right into that stranglehold.

Silva was deafly quiet against Slovenia, but he’s been a peripheral player for club and country for a while and is fine contributing as a complementary piece instead, while Leao still delved into his bag of tricks and flicks even when space didn’t seem to allow for it. It left Fernandes as the one player in particular suffering because of Ronaldo.

This isn’t a new issue either, as Manchester United fans will attest. You’d think Fernandes’ directness and ability to conjure chances out of nothing would suit Ronaldo, but there is an overwhelming amount of evidence stating this just isn’t the reality.

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