Monday, July 15, 2024

Portugal 0-0 Slovenia (3-0 pen.): Talking points as Diogo Costa heroics help Portugal reach Euro quarterfinals

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Portugal and Slovenia faced off in the Euro 2024 round of 16 at the Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt on Monday evening, and with neither side able to break the deadlock within 120 minutes, the contest was decided by a penalty shootout in which Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa became a hero for his country.

The teams

Portugal coach Roberto Martinez arranged his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation. With Costa in goal, Ruben Dias and Pepe paired up in the heart of defence, flanked by Nuno Mendes on the left and Joao Cancelo on the right. Vitinha partnered Joao Palhinha in the middle of the park, while the trio of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Rafael Leao played just behind Cristiano Ronaldo upfront.

Meanwhile, Slovenia boss Matjaz Kek went with a classic 4-4-2 shape. Jan Oblak was expectedly between the posts, with Jaka Bijol and Vanja Drkusic forming the centre-back partnership, and with Jure Balkovec and Zan Karnicnik on the defensive flanks. Jan Mlakar on the left and Petar Stojanovic on the right flanked Timi Elsnik and Adam Cerin, forming a flat midfield line across the width of the pitch. RB Leipzig star Benjamin Sesko was joined by Andraz Sporar of Panathinaikos in attack.

The game

It obviously didn’t come as a great surprise that Portugal dominated the ball for a very large part of the match. They took control of the proceedings straight away and attacked, but they faced an admirably disciplined Slovenia side. Kek’s men kept close to their opponents throughout and used a physical approach whenever other means wouldn’t serve, but what made their performance truly impressive in that aspect was the fact that they pressed high whenever they could, and moved their lines back to get behind the ball whenever that press was broken through, always keeping as many men as possible behind the ball.

Unable to break into the box with short passes, Portugal resorted to crossing frequently from the flanks, trying to make use of Ronaldo’s well-documented aerial prowess, but Drkusic and Bijol were completely up to the task of competing with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. The closest Portugal got to scoring in the first half was in its last second, when Palhinha tried his luck from outside the box and grazed the outside of Oblak’s post.

They had an even better chance in the second minute of the second half, but Bernardo Silva failed to hit the target from around 15 yards after Cancelo displayed superb skill to break into the box from the right.

Martinez’s team created a couple of promising situations more in the period that followed, but they were still unable to break the resolute defending of their opponents. Slovenia had a few moments when they could’ve threatened Costa’s goal as well had they shown any composure in the final third, most notably in the 62nd minute when Sesko suddenly broke through and raced goalwards, but he scuffed his shot under pressure from Pepe.

Three minutes later, Martinez boosted his attacking ranks by introducing Diogo Jota in the place of Vitinha.

The Liverpool attacker didn’t do much until the 89th minute, when he created the best chance of the regular time. Having won the ball in his own half, he carried it fast and far up the pitch before releasing Ronaldo down the channel between the Slovenian defenders, but the veteran striker fired straight into Oblak. The moment only added to Ronald0’s frustration, notable throughout the match.

Interestingly enough, Slovenia threatened twice in the four minutes of stoppage time, but both situations were ruined by Zan Celar, who had replaced Sporar in the 74th minute.

Into the extra time

With neither side able to break the deadlock over 90 minutes, the contest went into extra half an hour.

Not much went on until the final minute of the first period, when Portugal suddenly got a great chance to finally take the lead. Jota had entered the Slovenian box, and surrounded by the opposing defenders, he went down under contact from Drkusic, and referee Daniele Orsato blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. Up stepped Ronaldo, but Oblak read and saved his shot.

Ten minutes into the second period, it was Slovenia’s turn to get an opportunity to score. Pepe’s lost his step and consequently the ball to Sesko in Portugal’s half of the pitch, and the Leipzig striker rushed towards Costa’s goal, but the Portugal goalkeeper showed his quality too with a brilliant save.

Portugal attacked for most of the remaining five minutes, but the contest was obviously destined to be settled by a penalty shootout.

As Josip Ilicic, having replaced Elsnik for the second extra-time period, got his shot read and saved by Costa, Ronaldo made up for his earlier miss and scored. Costa saved from Balkovec next and Fernandes took advantage to double Portugal’s lead. Finally, Costa proved utterly unbeatable to deny another Slovenian substitute in Benjamin Verbic, who had played really well after replacing Stojanovic three minutes before the initial 90 were up, and Bernardo Silva dealt the final blow to send Portugal through to the quarterfinals.

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The parting of ways

The two teams are obviously heading in different directions after this intriguingly close match. Slovenia will go home, but like several other sides before them, they leave the tournament in Germany with their heads held high. No team managed to beat them over 90 minutes; Denmark, Serbia, England, and now Portugal, all tried and failed.

Matjaz Kek and his men should truly be commended for their efforts, for their tactical discipline most of all. They held to their task to the very end against Portugal and withstood everything their great rivals threw at them. Their 4-4-2 shape was still very visible on the pitch even in the 120th minute, and their supporters should feel very proud of the players who reached the knockout stage of a major tournament for the first time in the country’s history.

However, it’s Portugal who continue their quest for continental glory, though it only gets trickier from here. They were superior in terms of possession and attacking intent against Slovenia, but it remains to be seen if they can do something similar in the quarterfinals where they’ll face star-studded France, who got past Belgium to get there.

The match is scheduled for Friday, at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, and the winner will take on either hosts Germany or Spain in the semifinals.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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