Facing potential elimination at worst or a likely very difficult early test in the knockout stages at best, a restless Cristiano Ronaldo leads Portugal against upstart Hungary Wednesday as each vies for first place in Group F at Stade des Lumieres in Lyon.
Portugal is currently third on the group table due to a surprising lack of scoring, and must claim a victory over Hungary for a shot at first in the group. Otherwise, Fernando Santos’ side could force another draw, and hope Iceland and Austria reach a scoreless conclusion for second place. There’s even the possibility Portugal advances as a third place squad, which could lead to a harrowing showdown with Group D leader Spain. Either way A Seleccao’s backs are against the wall.
The Portuguese have netted one goal, belonging to forward Nani, and drawn in both of their first two matches, with Ronaldo evidently losing sleep over clanking his penalty off the post in the 78th minute against Austria on Saturday.
"Cristiano hasn't been able to sleep," Santos told reporters. "On Sunday I was one of the first to wake up and he was already awake. Cristiano is Portugal captain and we can't expect everything to fall into place at once.
"He's a winner and his experience will help him bounce back. He can go one or two games without scoring but afterwards he comes back scoring five goals, like he has done on other occasions."
Santos’ unwavering confidence in his squad’s captain isn’t exactly a stretch, given the Real Madrid talisman’s history and undeniably powerful skill set. And while Hungary’s defense is likely to play conservatively, manager Bernd Storck’s lineup will be shorthanded.
The Hungarians have allowed only one goal and 40-year-old keeper Gabor Kiraly has notched four saves, but defender Attila Fiola is dealing with an ankle injury and forward Daniel Bode is reportedly doubtful against the Portuguese.
Santos does have some concerns as well. Defender Raphael Guerreiro and midfielder Andre Gomes, both of whom have started each of Portugal’s games thus far, are doubtful to play due to thigh injuries.
Prediction: Portugal over Hungary, 2-0
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN (USA); RTP 1, Sport TV 1 (Portugal); M4 Sports (Hungary)
Live Stream: ESPN3