As the second round of group games in EURO 2016 are completed, there is a surprising fact to be noticed. Neither Zlatan or Cristiano have gotten off the books for this tournament yet, and their respective nations will have to fight for their lives to reach the next rounds of the European championship.
Sweden have recorded their first loss in this tournament against Italy, courtesy of a late goal from Éder. This means Zlatan’s team has to win against Belgium in their next game to have any chance of advancing to the next round. The Swede will want to make an impact in what is potentially his last Euros for his country. However, he’s been kept at bay so far mainly due to the cold hard fact that his supporting cast for Sweden is simply not as prolific as the one that was at his disposal during this past season at PSG, when he scored 52 goals in 51 appearances across all competitions.
At the age of 34, it is arguable whether or not we will see the best of Zlatan during this tournament, but one thing is clear: Sweden needs Zlatan to progress to the next round. Belgium, their next opponent, are themselves in the hunt for points, as the 3 they have accumulated so far may not prove enough to take them through to the knockout stages of the competition, should they fail to at least secure a draw. That game, which is set to take place next Wednesday, should prove to be an intriguing contest, as well as one of massive importance, as it can cast the deciding vote on the fates of two nations on the hinges.
There may have been a time when the sheer presence of Cristiano instilled a sense of fear within the opposition goalkeepers. That sense of fear has combusted and it seems like it has reappeared inside Ronaldo’s mind in this tournament, the way he’s been playing. He’s making average keepers perform stunning saves, and it seems like his free-kick voodoo is truly living beyond its wildest dreams. Cristiano has missed his last 36 free-kicks in major international tournaments, the worst record ever.
“I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end.”
He’s attempted 95 shots in European Championship and World Cup finals—the most of any player—41 more than second placed Thierry Henry. Ronaldo’s off-the-field antics—something that wasn’t an issue besides his usual selfish comments—has made both his club Real Madrid and his national team Portugal look over their shoulders in recent times. In his latest post-match rant after the Portuguese team’s cumbersome draw against Iceland, he reflected on the heroic efforts of the Icelandic players in this manner: “I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end.” And as if that wasn’t humiliating enough already, he went on further to say, “We tried hard to win the game and Iceland didn’t try anything. This, in my opinion, shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”
He seems to have forgotten how he and his teammates celebrated in similar (hardly) fashion after winning one particular game in La Liga:
Rather than simply admitting that he’s having a rough patch at the moment, the Portuguese forward has decided to instead pick on the opposition as an excuse. Now that, when given the fact that you have almost 150 fold as many Twitter followers as the country that you’re facing has physical people, can make even the cruelest of his fans question his judgment.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Twitter followers: 43,100,000
Iceland’s population: 330,000 pic.twitter.com/Py4CdZh1dV
— Football Facts (@FootbalIFact) June 14, 2016
All things aside, Portugal need Ronaldo laser-focused on the field. The forward is not a youngster anymore, even though he says he looks 25, and thus needs to be held accountable for his words by his manager, be it a slightly awkward conversation. In the end, post-match comments don’t bring you the three points; your on-field performance does.
Another man—coincidentally it happens to be Ronaldo’s teammate—who has spoken out in recent times is Gareth Bale, though the Welshman has simply acted out due to the fierce rivalry between his country and England. His performances, though, have been quite the contrary to that of his Real Madrid teammate, as he has already scored 2 goals so far in this tournament, both of them from 3 free-kick attempts. He has certainly lived up to the standards that his countrymen’s expectations, and this tournament is set to rewrite Wales’ history regardless of whether they can make it out of their group, even though it’s highly likely they will.
Wales aren’t dependent only on Gareth Bale, however, as Aaron Ramsey has also picked up some of the burden from Bale’s shoulders. They suffered a devastating loss right at the dying minutes against England courtesy of Daniel Sturridge’s stoppage-time winner, but Chris Coleman expects his Dragons to bounce back from this defeat when they face Russia in the last game of the group stages. Wales’ progression to the next round is a virtual certainty, given they already have three points, and along with the distractions that the Russians have had to suffer through since this tournament started, the match might be over before it even begins.
The other noteworthy ‘one-man’ team, Poland, have begun their tournament in an innocuous manner, collecting the three points against Northern Ireland in the opening game, and then coolly earning a draw against World champions Germany. Some might even argue that the Polish deserved the full three-points in the latter encounter, though the chances that Arkadiusz Milik wasted means that those arguments can only be made in vain. The player who’s dubbed to be the next ‘Lewandowski’ disappointed heavily during the course of this game, wasting the best chances that the Polish created so meticulously.
Speaking of the next ‘Lewandowski’, the actual Lewandowski had a better game than he did during Northern Ireland, when he couldn’t manage a single shot on goal. However, even with that said, he was very influential in his team’s performance. Though the striker is suffering from somewhat of a drought by his otherworldly standards, even his critics are keeping their mouths shut; after all, when someone has the ability to score 5 goals in a matter of 8 minutes, you do not want to challenge him.
Poland have a hard-working team this tournament, and they have already shown that they can keep things tight at the back. If they can get Lewandowski firing on all cylinders, they are set for a deep run in this edition of the Euros.