What a strange game of football this was. Jamie Carragher in the ITV studio called it the tournament’s best to date. But Clyde Tyldesley in the ITV commentary box was struggling for euphemisms for dull in the third quarter. And vast swathes of the first half weren’t much cop either. AND Cristiano Ronaldo got away with a stinker. Not only did his misses not matter in the end (unless goal difference comes into play, which it might if they lose to Holland on Sunday) but Andy Townsend thought he had quite a good game really.

Lucky boys, the Portuguese, getting away with this win having dozily let a two-goal lead slip. They didn’t start playing against Germany until they went 1-0 down. And they didn’t really click into gear in this one until they’d let Nicklas Bendtner score twice against them – enough to stir the doziest of teams into action when you think about it. For those few moments between Bendtner making it 2-2 and substitute Silvestre Varela winning the match with a stunning half-volley, Portugal were as impressive as anyone in the tournament to date. Pity it was such a long wait.

Jools Holland’s team (the “boogie-woogie piano master” masquerading as Portugal manager Paulo Bento until his next tour) sauntered their way into a two-goal lead, merrily pinging in ideal crosses for 14-foot strikers until Joao Moutinho’s more accessible 24th-minute corner was bullet-headed home by Pepe. Cristiano Ronaldo was having one of his pouty games, which was just as well for his “marker” Simon Kjaer, who was having a notably woeful time even in a tournament as full of woeful central defenders as this one (France’s Bruno Mexes is the most woeful to date). Kjaer even let in Helder Postiga for a simple near-post finish to double Portugal’s advantage on 36 minutes. And, as Spurs fans will readily testify, that is not something to tell your grandchildren…even if Postiga is a long-forgotten international football footnote by then.

But Bendtner nodded home a Danish lifeline from four yards, four minutes before the break, taking advantage of the change in “phase” which makes the offside law just a work of literary and poetic genius. And Morten Olsen’s men were better after the break, especially after the introduction of Tobias Mikkelson for the injured Dennis Rommedahl on the hour. As we are reminded early in every Denmark game, almost as if it were a contractual obligation, Rommedahl used to play for Charlton, and “can motor.” The way he pulled up clutching his hamstring suggests we will have to remember his Charlton and motoring days without prompting in future. “Poor old Dennis, he’s more of a menace to his own side half the time,” said co-commentator Andy Townsend, momentarily morphing into Mark Lawrenson. Townsend then suggested that Denmark were missing Rommedahl as an “out ball”, even though, with his replacement Mikkelson prominent, the Danes were playing their way through Portugal with increasing threat as the second half progressed.

Their equaliser was sort of coming, even though its arrival was immediately preceded by a glaring Ronaldo miss on 77 minutes, the preening Portuguese pouter latching onto a fabulous first-time pass from the otherwise peripheral Nani and side-footing the ball some way wide with only Danish keeper Stephan Anderson to beat. After hearing “he would have scored that for Arsenal” every time the Netherlands’  Robin Van Persie missed a chance against the Danes (and against the Germans later on this evening) you couldn’t help but think Ronaldo “would have scored that for Real Madrid” – as well as a one-on-one opportunity with Anderson early in the second half… at least until Townsend said so too, at which point doubts immediately surfaced. Barely two minutes later, Bendtner scored with his second header, this one an impressively powerful downward header which Portuguese keeper Pedro Rui Patricio could only parry into the net despite only having a yard to move.

But nerves from the Danes, as it dawned on them that qualification for the knock-out stages could have been minutes away, and a more determined Portuguese attitude changed the atmosphere, tempo and momentum of the game. “Portugal are not trying to push it too much and Denmark are being patient,” noted Tyldesley, correctly, as the third quarter drifted harmlessly by. These were his best euphemisms for “this is dull.” They were also the complete opposite of what happened in the seven minutes between Bendtner’s equaliser and Varela’s winner.

Varela had missed an even clearer chance late in the Germany game, which would almost certainly have given Portugal a point. This time he made no mistake. He cleared any doubts about whether he was left-footed by missing a Fabio Coentrao cross with it before clearing any other doubts about whether he was right-footed as the ball landed kindly off his backside and he thumped it joyously home. Late substitute Varela had been on the pitch about three minutes when he did all this. Even later Danish substitute Lasse Schone had been on the pitch about as long when the ball fell to his right-foot in a similar position to Varela’s. There the comparison comprehensively ended, as Schone’s shot was shi… well off-target. Such are the vagaries of this group that the Netherlands could still qualify if they beat Portugal, despite losing their first two games. And they could do it at Denmark’s expense, despite losing to them. What a strange game, football.

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