I WAS leaving this opening salvo on Portugal’s Euro hopes until after their first game. It would come as a piece of triumphalism, after the slaying of international minnows Iceland in ‘our’ Group F opener.
Without the need for patronising the tiny Icelandic population of 330,000, I’m now writing this, differently positioned, in the wake of the first real ‘shock’ result of the tournament, following last night’s 1-1 draw against an oversized fishing village.
I was made up to randomly draw Portugal as my TAW pick to follow during Euro 2016.
Like many, I can’t warm to England under Hodgson. I’ve had my usual insurance bet on England – not my customary huge wager that buys me some neutrality towards the reptilian old c**t, but a bet with enough of a potential return to buy me a small tent to get away from a sickening, yet unlikely, Hodge-anointing, should he somehow fluke a trip to the semi-finals or beyond. The beyond doesn’t bear thinking about.
No, it’s nice to have someone to get behind properly. The word ‘Portugal’ just radiates a throbbing heat – ushering in a warm breeze and a whiff of Rose. I’m going there on holiday this summer, returning to beautiful Lagos in the Algarve. Rob Guttman holidays in the vicinity perennially, bronzing himself on the stern of a yacht, while a string of gorgeous women bring him endless sheets of paper detailing transfer speculation. Life in the gutter has its upsides.
I’m looking forward to seeing the astonishingly beautiful beach (Prai Da Dona Ana) and Meia Praia where the limestone cliff-face drips with moisture and you can rub green stuff on your face, while wearing a bucket hat (see photo below).
I’m dreaming of sitting off outside my favourite Algarve bar, drinking Sagres and mixing with Benfica-obsessed natives. Half watching meaningless pre-season friendlies, while getting sozzled in a little holiday saloon is one of life’s underrated pleasures.
My connections with Portugal – as much as I love it – are tenuous at best. I do, however, have slightly disturbing memories of my mum when she was much younger, and after a few wines, claiming her ‘father was Portuguese’. In sobriety, she has never been able to substantiate such an exotic bloodline. The fact that her family name hails from North Yorkshire emphatically buries any truth in such a ruse.
Anyway, enough of the nonsense and back to the football. To get into the spirit of things, I also had a small investment on Portugal at 18/1, which prior to Tuesday’s draw looked a sound venture. You can always ‘cash out’ these days if you don’t fancy them to go all the way – although after last night, the temptation might be to do so now.
Actually though, I’m sticking with them. Well, I’ve got to because I’m writing about them for TAW.
In all probability, amid this bloated tournament of limited first-round jeopardy, Ronaldo and co. will struggle to exit from a group featuring only the Icelandic spoilsports and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Portugal will reach the last 16 and, from what I’ve seen so far, will stand as much chance as anybody.
France are replete with quality but concede chances, Germany – for all their clichéd efficiency – really could do with a proper striker and a manager who doesn’t sniff his own balls in the technical area, Spain feel like an Iniesta tribute team on tour, Italy have started too well and have the same back four that won the 1982 World Cup and Belgium are the Crystal Palace ‘team of the 80s’ of international football.
England, meanwhile, have the chameleon expressions of Roy and his mouthful of marbles.
Being on the same side as Cristiano Ronaldo is a weird, uncomfortable feeling, after years of hoping he would fall flat on his face. Last night he was startlingly crap. Nothing went right and his evening was summed up with a simple headed chance aimed straight at a thankful goalkeeper late on.
However, it’s far too premature to be writing Ronaldo off, even if his metamorphosis from flying winger to out-and-out goal hanger is now complete. He’s still a terrible bad loser – his sarcastic array of wry smiles and condescending attitude towards the officials as annoying as ever. He sullies Portugal for me, but I won’t be complaining if he suddenly hits form and starts banging them in. I didn’t like John Aldridge, yet I still cheered when he scored.
More Ronaldo: "They celebrated like they had won the Euro cup or something. That's a small mentality. That's why they'll do nothing."
— Ed Malyon (@eaamalyon) June 14, 2016
Pepe is still a nasty piece of work at centre-half alongside the ancient Ricardo Carvalho. A trademark, unnecessary flailing boot into an Icelandic thigh was the particular ‘dark arts’ highlight last night. But the Real Madrid man knows how to defend. They represent a proper mean pair, and might even stand a chance against the Russian freaks who have taken traditional football ‘violence’ into newly-sinister waters at this tournament.
Nani, another ex-Man United man, is remarkable for nothing more than the fact he’s still in his 20s – just. How is that possible? I thought he was older than me, until he ended up on the end of Andre Gomes’ superb cross for the opener last night. It’s the type of goal I could still score, but only on FIFA 16 – so fair play to the veteran 29-year old.
Gomes actually looks a player. He drifted in and out a little, but he was a roving presence across the middle and into wide areas. With a bit more conviction and effort – reminding me a little of Emre Can – he could have influenced the game more in the second half. He eventually made way for Eder (who managed to draw a complete blank last season at Swansea) as Portugal looked for a late winner.
The Portuguese will need to show more craft if they are to negotiate a safe passage past Austria and Hungary in their remaining games. Or, hope that Ronaldo finds his range from free-kicks.
Joao Moutinho is better than he showed against Iceland and will improve, and we may see the exciting Renato Sanches of Benfica, who came off the bench prompting to good effect, figure more prominently next time.
In all honesty, it’s not a vintage or a particularly nice Portugal at Euro 2016. The famous maroon shirt, at least for now, looks a little washed out. Then again, that England have got Jamie Vardy, yet the Lake District and the Cotswolds are still lovely.
The Algarve will still radiate its warmth in August, the Sagres and the Rose will flow, and we’ll always have Gutmann’s Yacht, Eusebio and Luis Figo.