It was comprehensive and uncompromising result and, in many respects, the only major questions emerging from last night’s match between Turkey and Portugal is one of whether the Portuguese will peak or have already peaked too soon because, with an easier draw than most of the serious contenders for this tournament and having played the way that they did last night, there is now a powerful case for saying that Portugal might just be able to go all the way at Euro 2008. It wasn’t that Turkey were a weak side or that they couldn’t live with their opponents. They might have looked a little light-weight in attack, but ultimately they simply couldn’t live with the vast array of attacking options that Portugal had. By the last fifteen minutes, the Portuguese were effectively playing four men up front and all four of the seemed to be trying to score the goal of the tournament. They were, to be frank, not a major taking a major risk since the Turks were, without Hakan Sukur, lightweight looking up front (although Colin Kazam looked spritely, living up to his billing as “The Man In The Premier League Shop Window”), and Portugal were never seriously in danger of their lead. Indeed, the delightful, artful second goal that Portugal scored right at the very death was the mere icing of the cake that was the job well done.
The tone for the evening on the television was set by ITV, who decided that this was The Cristiano Ronaldo Show (with a guest appearance from Colin Kazim). Prior to the match, they interviewed Gary Neville, who came up with the perhaps surprising revelation that, no, Cristiano would definitely not be going to Madrid before the start of next season. At half-time, they said, “now we’re going to have a look at Ronaldo’s first half”, and there was more of the same at the end, in spite of the fact that he had had, by his own standards, a relatively quiet match. The irony of it all is that Portugal aren’t Ronaldo & Friends – their other players are so much more than mere bit part actors in his autobiography. Deco, for example, had a wonderful first half, spraying the ball around like Tiger Woods pitches a golf ball onto the green, with precision and elegance. It occasionally seemed as if there were two Bepe’s on the pitch – one up front and one at centre back – and Nuno Gomes played with the renewed purpose of a man that knows that his time has come. None of this, either, reflected negatively on Turkey, who looked brisk and efficient, and particularly mobile on the rare occasions that they managed to break forward. Kazim kept drfiting out to the right, which may have disrupted their attacking momentum, and their biggest problem seemed to be the lack of any leadership up front. Too many times they got to thirty yards out and then ran out of further options.
The goals both came in the second half. The first, scored just after the hour, was so simple that one simply wondered why the Portuguese had taken just over an hour to do it. Bepe burst forward suddenly from a deep position, played a tidy one-two with Nuno Gomes and rolled the ball comfortably past the Turkish goalkeeper Demirel. Bepe had already had a goal disallowed for offside and Portugal had hit both the post and the crossbar, so there was little surprising about the fact that they finally had hit the net. The second goal looked like nothing so much as trick manouvre from “Pro Evolution Soccer”. Ronaldo broke down the left hand side and slid the ball across to Joao Moutinhno, who jumped and sweved his way past a defender and passed the ball on again to substitute Raul Meireles to double the advantage for Portugal.
Such was the effervescence of the Turkish performance (particularly in the opening stages, when a goal for them might have made all the difference) and the doughiness of the Czech performance against Turkey that one suspects that Turkey are not out of this yesterday, although the Czechs would have been bouncing (as it were) at the news that they will likely now only need three points at the absolute most from their remaining two matches to seal a place in the next round. I expect to see them put up more of a fight in their remaining two matches. As for Portugal, an intriguing test of their will to win awaits. One suspects that previous Portuguese teams have been undone by a lack of self-awareness and too many start names failing to turn up on the big nights. With a potentially easy run to a semi-final against Germany, will the Portuguese freeze again, or will they cruise to the latter stages of the tournament with the comfort that one would expect them to, on the basis of at least last night’s match? Portugal will facer stiffer tests than this later in the tournament.