All eyes will be on the misfiring Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal seek to avoid the humiliation of a group-stage exit at Euro 2016 when they face Hungary on Wednesday.
Ronaldo has endured a miserable European Championship so far, failing to score in a 1-1 draw with Iceland and the 0-0 stalemate with Austria.
The Real Madrid superstar has not won any new admirers either, churlishly deriding Iceland for having a “small mentality” after the tiny debutants held out for a point in the teams’ Group F opener in Saint-Etienne.
And he was jeered mercilessly when he missed a penalty against Austria in Paris, leaving coach Fernando Santos as one of the few men at the tournament in France willing to defend his captain.
“Ronaldo is a player who scores a lot of goals and I’m sure he will score in the next game against Hungary,” he said.
Santos is expecting a defensive performance from Hungary in Lyon, echoing the successful approach taken by Iceland last week.
“I think this game will be more similar to the Iceland game than the Austria one,” he added.
“We need to make the running and take advantage of any space we get. It will be tight. It doesn’t matter if we play better or ugly football.
“It [the Austria draw] was the first time we had failed to score during my reign. We might not score lots but we always scored coming into the tournament. I don’t think this will happen again.
“We created so many chances, we didn’t score but I think we will next time out. We have to bounce back, score and win. I think we’ll do that.”
Hungary made a strong start by upsetting Austria 2-0 but needed a late own goal to deny Iceland, the teams sharing the points in a 1-1 draw in Marseille.
That has left Bernd Storck’s men top of their pool and on track for the round of 16, prompting fans back home to rally around the once great national team, which had lain dormant since a last major tournament appearance at the 1986 World Cup.
“It is great to hear children back at home are playing football after our matches and not pretending to be [Lionel] Messi or Ronaldo, but rather Gabor Kiraly, Dzsudzsi [Balazs Dzsudzsak] or Ricsi [Richard Guzmics],” squad member Mihaly Korhut said.
“We’ll play for the win in our next match and Portugal will do the same because a draw is not enough for them.”
A fascinating final matchday of Group F looms, with all four teams still able to advance to the round of 16.
Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma, having sat out the draw with Iceland due to a minor fitness problem, started the Austria game before coming off in the second half, with both coaches believed to have no fresh injury worries and close to full-strength squads to choose from.
Key Opta stats:
– This will be the 11th meeting between these two sides; Portugal are yet to taste defeat against Hungary winning seven of the previous 10 (D3).
– If Cristiano Ronaldo plays, it will be his 30th game at a major tournament with Portugal, more than any other player. He has scored nine goals in his previous 29 appearances.
– It will also be Ronaldo’s 17th game in Euros finals, more than any other player in the history of the tournament.
– Portugal have never failed to make it out of their group at the European Championship, reaching the knockout stage in all six of their previous Euros finals participations.
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