Portugal win penalty shootout to beat Slovenia after Cristiano Ronaldo's tears

Portugal scraped through to the European Championship quarter-finals after beating Slovenia in a penalty shootout at the end of a match during which Cristiano Ronaldo was reduced to tears.

Ronaldo had a penalty saved by Jan Oblak in extra time with the game goalless and he was barely consolable during the half-time break that followed.

But the 39-year-old regained his composure to score in the shootout and team-mate Diogo Costa produced three saves to send his side into the last eight, where they will meet France on Friday.

Matt Slater, Tim Spiers and Liam Tharme break down a dramatic last-16 match in Frankfurt.

The Ronaldo show: penalty miss, shots galore and those tears

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Cristiano Ronaldo had the chance to put Portugal ahead from the penalty spot in extra time (Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)

The sight of Ronaldo sobbing uncontrollably as he tried to comprehend his penalty miss in extra time may become one of the defining images not just of Euro 2024, but of any European Championship.

His team-mates tried to console and refocus their captain — Diogo Dalot comforted and kissed him, Joao Palhinha gave a stern word and Bruno Fernandes offered some quiet advice in his ear. But to see the man venerated as the greatest Portuguese and possibly even European player of all time reduced to floods of tears was pretty astonishing.

So too was his spurned penalty (which was more of a stunning save from Oblak) in the first half of extra time, just when it looked as though he would have the final say.

He may have scored hundreds of times during his career but it is hard to imagine a player being more anguished and desperate to score a goal than Ronaldo was throughout this game.

You will either be of the school of thought that this reflects his incredible commitment and desire, despite his advancing years. Or you’ll think it’s childish, egotistical nonsense, all for show, all about him.

The latter theory was backed up by a quite pathetic attempt to score a free kick from way out on the left at a tight angle. He has now taken 61 direct free kicks at international tournaments and scored just one.

The former theory of desire etc was aligned with his sharp movement in and around the box and a free kick from a normal position which almost kissed the bar.

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Cristiano Ronaldo was desperate to score against Slovenia (Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images)

Whichever viewpoint you take, there is no doubting his penchant for mistiming runs and jumping under crosses, nor the fact he performed the Kama Sutra of faces throughout the night, psyching himself up for free kicks like a gladiator before battle, or roaring a pained cry towards the sky after missing a chance like he had just stepped on a plug.

Once again he had the fewest touches and most shots in the Portugal team.

And talking of shots, that’s 19 he’s had at Euro 2024, more than any other player at the tournament, and he still hasn’t scored (penalty in the shootout aside). Meanwhile, Goncalo Ramos and Diogo Jota, top-level forwards in their prime, are reduced to supporting roles.

But all that said, you have to admire the mentality he showed to step up and score Portugal’s first penalty in the shootout, so soon after being visibly distraught.

Tim Spiers

Slovenia, an incredibly tough nut to crack

Matjaz Kek has built this Slovenia team on its defence. “We must be able to suffer defensively,” he said before a 2-0 friendly win over Portugal in March. Just over three months later, Slovenia were vindicating his words against Portugal once more. Portugal had only failed to score in regulation time in three games since the 2022 World Cup — and two of those were against Slovenia.

The 4-4-2 mid-block is compact. Kek has his wingers drop in, allowing the full-backs to defend tight against wingers/No 10s. It leaves them vulnerable in the half-spaces if they jump late or opponents move the ball quickly, but they are coordinated. The centre-back pairing of Jaka Bijol and Vanja Drkusic is imperious, almost eating up crosses into the box. Sure, it helps having Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Oblak behind them, but Slovenia are more about shot suppression than letting their goalkeeper shot-stop.

Only Georgia made more clearances than them across the first four games. Harry Kane, Aleksandr Mitrovic and Ronaldo — three high-level No 9s, all with different styles — left empty-handed against the Slovenia defence. The Portugal game was number 59 and clean sheet 25 under Kek. They have conceded less than a goal per game under him.

This Euros was their first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup. If Kek is able to keep their defence at this level, and raise their attacking bar — entirely plausible given the upward trajectory of Sesko — then they can consider themselves likely qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup.

Liam Tharme

Portugal: so much talent but what about the tactics?

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Roberto Martinez’s Portugal team came into this tournament as one of the favourites (Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)

Portugal ought to be so much better than this. Fair enough, the underwhelming misuse of talent is a category you could file France and England under too, and like those two, they are into the quarter-finals. Martinez’s preference to still build the team around Ronaldo is, tactically, not holding water.

There are versatile players everywhere you look: Diogo Dalot can play full-back on both sides, as an overlapper or moving into midfield; Bernardo Silva is an everything midfielder, used by Pep Guardiola in myriad ways for Manchester City; Rafael Leao, a winger, has played as a No 9 for AC Milan before.

A report from CIES, published at the start of 2024, showed Portugal’s big three (Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Benfica) as three of the top 15 academies in the world for transfer revenues of graduates. This isn’t a Belgium-type situation where manager Roberto Martinez needed to capitalise on a golden generation, but instead he has found himself in a similar position to Didier Deschamps with France: create a structure, evolve player roles and tactics as they mature and keep a steady cycle of older, declining players leaving the team as new ones come in.

Except Martinez hasn’t. Seven debutants in 18 games since taking over. No settled tactical system, chopping and changing personnel and shapes between games. Martinez looks panicked in trying to front-load attacking talent and going back to the 3-4-3 that worked best for him with Belgium. Georgia’s compact 5-3-2 completely shut them down on matchday three, and they resorted to crosses way too early against Slovenia. They scrapped a late victory from the jaws of defeat on matchday one against the Czech Republic — a win is a win at a tournament but that does not stop it being tactically unconvincing.

The fact that statement, from game one, holds at game four, is a problem.

Liam Tharme

Has Sesko enhanced his reputation at the Euros?

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Benjamin Sesko was Arsenal’s top target this summer but he decided to stay at RB Leipzig (Arne Dedert/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

When you have had a two-month run that brought you goals in seven straight Bundesliga games, interest from five of England’s biggest teams followed by a new contract and a hefty raise from your current club, it was always going to be hard for Benjamin Sesko to enhance his reputation at Euro 2024.

Because at the moment, the 21-year-old Slovenian is football’s equivalent of the next big tech stock, a unicorn, all upside, you better jump on board before this train leaves the station and so on.

And all of that might still come to pass. He is very tall, very fast, he can dribble and he can shoot, with both feet. He scored 22 goals in 42 games for FC Liefering, Red Bull’s entry-level team in Austria, then 29 in 72 for Red Bull Salzburg, before graduating to RB Leipzig last season and bagging 18 in 42. He was also Slovenia’s top scorer in qualifying and already has 11 in 33 internationals.

He definitely came to Euro 2024 with a reputation, then.

But what we have seen over the four games at this tournament is the reason why none of his many admirers have hit RB Leipzig’s magic number yet and he will be returning for another year of Red Bull finishing school next term.

He is good and may end up being very good but he is not there yet. More a case of reputation confirmed than enhanced.

Matt Slater

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(Top photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)

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