Costa’s penalty-saving heroics bail out Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal

Diogo Costa with a save during tie-breaker and Cristiano Ronaldo after the win
Diogo Costa with a save during tie-breaker and Cristiano Ronaldo after the win (PC: Euro)

Almost exactly eight years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo stood on the sidelines at the Stade de France in Paris, willing on his Portuguese teammates to a shock victory against France in the Euro 2016 final. He had been forced off in the 25th minute with a thigh injury, and his helplessness was apparent as France dominated the match only for Eder’s long-range strike in the second period of extra time to give Portugal the trophy.

On Monday night in Frankfurt, Portugal were the dominant side by a distance, but with Slovenia defending as though their lives depended on it, it was a night of frustration for the 39-year-old Ronaldo and teammates. For Ronaldo, there were tears again. Not because of an injury, but after a penalty at the end of the first period of extra time was brilliantly tipped onto the post by Jan Oblak.

His teammates gathered around and consoled him during the break before the final 15 minutes, and it spoke volumes of Ronaldo’s mental toughness that he stepped up and buried Portugal’s first spot kick in the shootout. The real hero, however, was Diogo Costa, the 24-year-old Porto goalkeeper who made three consecutive saves from 12 yards to kill off Slovenian dreams of an upset.

Portugal had enjoyed 72 per cent possession over the 120 minutes, but only six shots on target said much of how disjointed their efforts were in front of goal. Rafael Leao’s pace and dribbling were a constant menace down the left, and Bernardo Silva swung in some sublime crosses, but Ronaldo was invariably half a step too slow in getting to them.

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Diogo Costa with another outrageous save vs Slovenia
Diogo Costa with another outrageous save vs Slovenia (PC: X)

Though they held both Denmark and England to draws in the first round, this is far from a vintage Slovenian side. There isn’t a player anywhere close to the quality of Zlatko Zahovic, whose playmaking skills lit up Slovenian football at the turn of the millennium. Benjamin Sesko threatened with his pace and strength, and had a couple of great opportunities on the break, but his lack of composure in front of goal showed just how raw he still is.

Joao Palhinha struck the outside of the post and there were other close shaves as the Slovenians defended in two banks of four. But try as they might, Portugal couldn’t get past Oblak. Each of the Slovenian back four picked up a yellow card, but they stood firm even after Roberto Martinez rang the changes and brought on the likes of Diogo Jota, Ruben Neves and Francisco Conceicao.

It was Vanja Drkusic’s foul on Jota that gave Portugal the penalty, but Ronaldo’s attempt to add to his record collection of 14 Euro goals was a failure. Fortunately for him, Costa and his teammates ensured that there would be a rematch of that 2016 final against France in Hamburg on Friday night.

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