Despite losing their opening UEFA EURO 2012 match to Germany, Portugal’s overall performances left many of their fans with reasons to be hopeful for the remainder of the tournament. The Iberians continually frustrated the 2008 runners-up and only succumbed to a well-placed Mario Gomez header, at a time when the result appeared to be in the balance.
A crucial factor in the solid Portuguese display was the work put in by midfielders Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles, who combined to form a practically impenetrable wall that the talented Germans struggled to break down. With a pivotal Group B game against Denmark fast approaching, one in which a victory is required to maintain their interest in the continental competition, the two midfield dynamos spoke exclusively to FIFA.com
Defiant in defeat
Portugal’s most important 90 minutes of the last two years may be just around the corner, but despite this both players appear extremely calm, exhibiting the same level of control as they do out on the pitch. The reason for this apparent peace of mind is simple: their nation's opening performance.
“I thought the result was harsh; we created some great chances and we should really have scored an equaliser," said Veloso. "It was just down to bad luck that we lost. There were several moments during the match where we could have scored but the ball just wouldn’t go in.”
“On top of that, Germany scored at the worst possible time for us,” chipped in Meireles. “We had the game totally under control, and we could have had it in the bag much earlier, when Pepe hit the woodwork, and later on, with the opportunities we made for ourselves. That’s football. Although it wasn’t the result we were looking for, we’re feeling pretty relaxed, because the best is yet to come.”
The Chelsea player has no doubts about the key to keeping Joachim Low’s charges at bay. “By keeping Mezut Ozil quiet, Germany had no way of breaking us down. It was the perfect approach,” he said.
Midfield team-mate Veloso is happy to extrapolate the point: “To neutralise him, we had to be constantly alert and focus on playing as a team. That way, he didn’t have the space to deliver those trademark through balls that he’s so good at.”
Following the defeat to the Germans, and Denmark’s surprise win over the Netherlands, the Portuguese players know that they have no choice but to win if they want to keep their EURO hopes alive, and that overconfidence is the biggest barrier to achieving that goal.
“We haven’t got any alternative," explained Veloso. "Maybe on paper Denmark aren’t as strong as Germany, but they beat the Dutch, and in all honesty, no team qualifies for this tournament just to make up the numbers. They’re a quick, powerful side, with good players, and there’s no doubt it’ll be a challenge.”
Meireles is convinced about what is needed for A Selecção das Quinas to secure their first three points of the competition: “They’re quite different opponents from Germany and therefore require a different approach.
"We’ll try to control the ball more, rather than wait to hit them on the counter-attack," he continued. "But we should aim to maintain the same mental attitude that we showed towards the end of the Germany match, which was when we generated the most chances.”
Veloso prefers to emphasise another factor that could prove important during Wednesday’s encounter in Lviv. “We can’t lose our shape or our discipline," said the Genoa midfield man.
"We didn’t against Germany, and that helped us a lot, but it could be even more fundamental versus Denmark, because they have a very disciplined side too. If we lose our concentration, they’ll do to us what they did to the Netherlands.”
By way of conclusion, both Portuguese internationals are able to agree on one burning issue. “We’ll qualify; I’ve got no doubt about that,” stated Meireles, adding that “optimism in the camp is at an all-time high”.
Nor was Veloso any no less confident: “From what we showed on the pitch, it would be silly to underestimate our chances," he concluded. "We’ve got what it takes to win.”