In Seville’s Estadio de la Cartuja, arguably the match-up of the European Championship so far
The fourth game thus far in the round-of-16. Knockout football – and hard to envisage a more mouth-watering affair than number one-ranked Belgium facing defending champions Portugal.
One of them would be going home tonight – while the other would have clinched a quarter-final spot, and be dreaming of ultimate glory. Star turns wherever you looked – but just who would rise to the occasion?
For the major part of the first period it was a case of much ado about not a lot. Both these heavyweights weighing each other up, probing. No great opportunities for Lukaku or Ronaldo to add to their impressive scoring tallies.
The first corner didn’t arrive until 40 minutes had elapsed – but just 2 minutes later a moment of sublime skill. Belgium’s Thorgan Hazard, in the old inside-left position just outside the box, cut across a right-footed drive and gloriously found the back of Patricio’s net. It was their first shot on target – but what a swerving, gem of a strike.
Very even possession stats, passes – but just one, potentially priceless goal.
HT – Belgium 1 Portugal 0
Belgium were decent value for their lead, but there had been precious little in it. Kevin De Bruyne sadly lasted only a couple of minutes into the half before limping away. Fellow midfielder Eden Hazard, plagued for so long with injury himself, was fortunately looking much more like his old self.
Portugal introduced Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix early, as they searched for some attacking inspiration. Lukaku meanwhile blazed over the bar at the other end.
Dias had a point-blank header saved by Courtois, and Guerreiro struck the foot of the post. Portugal were trying everything. It had taken a while, but finally the match had ignited. There were tasty challenges all over the pitch – Pepe, predictably, playing his part.
Five additional minutes. Could the champions conjure up an escape? Joao Felix put a decent late chance just wide of the post – it was looking bleak. No further dramas – and it’s Belgium who progress to the quarters.
A pragmatic chess match for long periods, but a better second period, and a rousing finale.
FT – Belgium 1 Portugal 0