Portugal and Poland will tonight get the quarter-final stage of Euro 2016 underway at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
Both nations were arguably lucky to sneak past their round of 16 opponents and into the last eight, leaving plenty of room for improvement as the business end of the tournament looms.
Difficult to separate on paper and form, Portugal versus Poland is shaping up to be one of the most closely contested matches of the finals to date. Here are five key talking ahead of the opening fixture of the quarter-finals.
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1. LEWANDOWSKI MISFIRING
Robert Lewandowski has failed to score in his last seven internationals and is yet to register a single shot on target at Euro 2016.
Given his status as one of the most clinical strikers in the world, the Poland skipper simply must improve to ensure his team have more than mere luck to rely on against a dangerous Portugal outfit.
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2. RONALDO PERFORMING WHEN IT MATTERS
In contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have found his groove at Euro 2016 following a quiet start in the group stage.
The Real Madrid forward was far from his best against Croatia last time out, but if the Ronaldo who bagged two-goals against Hungary shows up, Portugal will rightly fancy their chances of booking a place in the semi-finals.
3. ONE-MAN TEAMS?
If neither Ronaldo or Lewandowski can produce a decisive performance, who else is capable of stepping up?
Former Poland captain Jakub Blasczycowski has looked sharp throughout the tournament and scored vital goals against Ukraine and Switzerland to help his country into the last eight.
For Portugal, Ricardo Quaresma and Nani have so far backed up their flamboyancy with substance, registering three strikes between them to take at least some of the goalscoring pressure off their captain.
4. FIRST-CHOICE KEEPER OUT
Lukasz Fabianski is poised to line up between the sticks again while a thigh problem prevents first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny from making his return.
The Swansea stopper has proved a reliable alternative in Szczesny’s absence, conceding just a single goal in three appearances since getting the nod against Germany in Poland’s second match of the tournament.
5. ACCUMULATED BOOKINGS
As is often the case at major tournaments, numerous players will be walking a tightrope in this quarter-final clash with the fear of suspension lurking in the back of their minds.
No fewer than nine players would be ineligible to play in the semi-final if they see yellow – a prospect that is especially concerning for Portugal, who stand to lose key players in Quaresma, William Carvalho and Pepe if they fail to stay out of the referee’s notebook.
Will Portugal or Poland progress to the semi-finals? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!
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