EURO 2016 | Saturday 18 June | Parc Des Princes | 21:00
Portugal and Austria meet in Paris on Saturday evening in a match which could go a long way in deciding how far each side goes in this tournament. Both sides will be looking for victory, to increase their chances of an easier passage through the group stages. Finish second, or even third, and things get a lot tougher.
However, without the advantage of the midweek results in my locker, I’m going to have to shoot a bit from the hip here. It’s worked quite well for me in the past, so I don’t see why we can’t have some success again.
I’ve never much fancied backing Portugal at major tournaments. That’s mainly because they’ve never won one. If I’m honest, I don’t see that changing this summer in France. Having said that, they should make it safely through the group stages and possibly the last eight. Portugal have never been knocked out in the groups – they aren’t about to start now.
Often criticised for being a one-man team, this year’s edition has a more rounded look to it. While Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt carry the goal scoring burden, he will be ably assisted by a cast of talented midfielders.
Beyond tournament regular Joao Moutinho, the likes of Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva, William Carvalho and Renato Sanches will be looking to make an impact on the global stage. The latter, signed by Bayern Munich for €35million in the off-season, has every chance of stamping his name on the tournament. There’s clearly something special about this kid. He carries the ball strongly and has the audacious in his locker.
The youthful exuberance of the midfield is contrasted with the grizzled defenders behind them. Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho may be beyond their best, but their experience at the top-level could prove vital. However, their lack of pace in central areas could well be exploited in the latter stages of the tournament.
Austria come into the tournament on the back of a stunning qualifying campaign. Led by Leicester City’s title-winning fullback, Cristian Fuchs, they finished eight points clear of rivals Russia in Group G and were one of only four undefeated teams.
Their performances lifted them into the top 10 in the world rankings, but as Belgian showed against Italy, there are pitfalls to backing a side on ranking alone.
However, Austria differ greatly from the Belgians in terms of team dynamic. Where Belgium are scattered with stars, Austria’s success is built on the back of ferocious teamwork. Think Leicester, but on the international stage. Bayern Munich fullback David Alaba may be the star turn operating in midfield, but he receives plenty of support from those around him.
Julian Baumgartlinger is a tenacious ball-winning midfielder whose dirty work in front of the back four allows those ahead of him the freedom to attack. Apart from the aforementioned Alaba, Stoke forward Marko Arnautovic and Basel’s Marc Janko provide a varied attacking threat.
Janko finished with seven goals in qualifying to back up a prolific season with the Swiss champs. If he can win his battle with the Portuguese centre-halves, there will be chances for those around him.
If I were to stick my neck out and give you a result here, 1-1 would be the way to go. At 9/2, it is the favourite in the correct score market, but could provide some value. Both sides would likely settle for a draw, which would give them the opportunity of top spot in the final round of matches. Neither of the two sides were especially prolific in qualifying and this could be a tentative affair. Under 2.5 Goals at 13/20 is a bit on the short side, but given how this tournament has gone so far, it looks a pretty solid bet.