Monday, July 15, 2024

The Numbers Game: Martinez faces Ronaldo decision against Les Bleus

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 3 Jul 2024

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Portugal and France confirmed their places in the quarter-finals of Euro 2024, but both the pre-tournament favourites were far from convincing in doing so.

Roberto Martinez had Diogo Costa to thank for his penalty heroics against Slovenia as the Porto goalkeeper spared Cristiano Ronaldo’s blushes in Frankfurt.

Ronaldo saw his spot-kick saved by Jan Oblak in extra time, reducing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to tears at the interval before stepping up to score in the shootout.

Earlier that day, France were aided by the knee of Jan Vertonghen as they squeezed past Belgium in Dusseldorf, with their struggles in front of goal continuing.

This will be the first meeting between the two sides since Euro 2020, in which three of the four goals were scored from the penalty spot in a 2-2 draw at the Puskas Arena. It is also, of course, a repeat of the Euro 2016 final, which Portugal won 1-0 in Paris.

Many predict another enthralling encounter against two European powerhouses, but based on current form, we might be better not expecting a classic.

Here, we use Opta data to preview Friday’s clash.

What’s expected?

France are predicted to emerge victorious in Hamburg, with the Opta supercomputer handing them a 40.1% chance of winning at the Volksparkstadion.

Portugal triumphed in 30.2% of the data-led simulations, with a draw forecast at 29.8%, meaning extra time and penalties are a real possibility.

This will be the fifth meeting between Portugal and France at the European Championships, with the Selecao unbeaten in the last two.

France won the first two meetings, going on to lift the trophy both times (3-2 in 1984, 2-1 in 2000), and Les Bleus know a win could send them on their way to silverware once again.

But while both sides boast an array of attacking talent, they have misfired in Germany, and every little advantage will likely be crucial in a tight contest.

Portugal have now failed to score in their last two matches. They have never failed to score in three consecutive games at a single major tournament before.

Les Bleus have had a similar problem. Their three goals at Euro 2024 so far have come from two own goals and a penalty from Kylian Mbappe.

Not since a run of five internationals between March and September 2013 have France seen their players fail to score from open play in as many matches.

However, their defence remained resolute in their time of need. France have an expected goals against (xGA) tally of just 2.63 at Euro 2024 – the lowest of any side in the quarter-final, and second lowest at the tournament overall after already-eliminated Serbia (2.57).

Didier Deschamps’ team have an impressive record over Friday’s opponents, having lost only one of their last 14 games against Portugal (W11 D2), although that lone defeat came in the final of Euro 2016.

But Martinez’s side will fancy their chances of claiming a second European Championship crown should they triumph here.

The previous four teams to eliminate Les Bleus at the quarter-final stage of a major tournament have gone on to win the trophy (Italy in the 1938 World Cup, Greece at Euro 2004, Spain at Euro 2012 and Germany at the 2014 World Cup).

Stick or twist with Ronaldo?

It’s a question that has emerged not for the first time at Euro 2024, but Martinez will face his toughest decision yet on Portugal’s talisman ahead of the fixture against France.

Ronaldo endured an evening to forget against Slovenia, but assumed responsibility for the Selecao’s first spot-kick in the penalty shootout, and was sure not to make the same mistake twice.

During that game in Frankfurt, Ronaldo had the most shots (eight), shots on target (four), and touches in the opposition box (seven), of any player. A clinical edge is lacking.

Indeed, Portugal’s captain has mustered 20 shots at Euro 2024, the most of any player, but is yet to find the back of the net.

Ronaldo has also attempted 34 direct free-kick shots for Portugal at the Euros, over twice as many as any other player on record (since 1980 – Zinedine Zidane 15), yet he is still to score one.

While it may be difficult to drop a player who is the all-time leading goalscorer in international football, Martinez could see this as an opportunity to freshen up his forward line.

Having recorded an xG total of 1.97 against Slovenia, failing to take those opportunities against a superior opposition will surely have devastating consequences.

Slim pickings for Deschamps

Deschamps tried to reignite Les Bleus’ attacking spark with a three-man strike force against Belgium, but the pickings were slim.

A trio of Mbappe, Marcus Thuram and Antoine Griezmann were preferred, with Randal Kolo Muani introduced late on, but it proved to be another blunt display.

France had 19 shots against the Belgians, but just two were on target, and ultimately it was a touch of fortune that saw them through.

Between Mbappe (five), Thuram (four) and Griezmann (two), they managed just one shot on target, despite having 18 touches between them in Belgium’s box.

Defence, ironically, given the attacking talent at their disposal, has been France’s strong point. However, their array of attacking options will have to step up sooner rather than later.

France have kept a clean sheet in three of their four games, the most of any side at the tournament, yet they are not being helped by the players in front of them.

Deschamps, however, has the opportunity to freshen up his forward line. The France coach faces a decision similar to Martinez, as to which of his players he can trust on the biggest of stages.

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