Portugal look to avoid Euro 2012 slip-up
Portugal will look to justify their tag as favourites in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-off second leg match with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday and seal their place in a fifth successive European championships.
The Portuguese - finalists when hosts in 2004 - largely dominated the first leg which finished in a 0-0 draw in Zenica on Friday but will be counting on stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo to see them safely on the plane to Poland and Ukraine next year. The two sides know each other well, having also faced each other in the play-off for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ which the Portuguese took only to disappoint at the finals themselves.
Theirs is the most finely-balanced of the four play-offs, with the Republic of Ireland and Croatia looking certain to seal their spots having beaten Estonia 4-0 and Turkey 3-0 respectively, both away from home. The Czech Republic - semi-finalists in 2004 - also look comfortable having won 2-0 in Montenegro.
Ronaldo meanwhile accepts he and his team-mates have it all to do against a tough Bosnian side that pushed France all the way in their qualifying group and were 12 minutes away from an automatic place when they led the French 1-0 in the final match before it ended 1-1.
"It's pretty much equal," the 26-year-old Real Madrid superstar told uefa.com. "Of course we'll be playing in better conditions, with our fans behind us, at home, but it'll be just as difficult. We got a good result away from home and we have to finish things in our home game."
Ronaldo will be expected to lead by example and reproduce his stunning club form - he has scored 13 goals in La Liga already this term - for his country, something which he has been accused of not doing in crucial matches.
However, the former Manchester United talisman has called for a collective effort. "We have to take on the mantle of favourites because we're a team that always has a chance of winning," he said. "So we have to prove why we're favourites on the pitch. There's no point in just talking about it and not proving it in matches."
Bosnia coach Safet Susic acknowledges Portugal dominated on Friday, but the former Paris Saint Germain star - voted their best ever player in 2010 - believes his players could have the edge playing the second leg away. "Portugal are one hell of a team, they have a good player for every position," said Susic, who is looking to guide Bosnia to their first major finals since gaining independence in 1992.
"They are satisfied with the result, just like we are, because they know our qualities. Perhaps it is better that everything will be decided in Lisbon, in a very good stadium, which can hold almost 70,000 spectators."
Susic, who played 54 times for the then Yugoslavia, also is confident that his side, spearheaded by Manchester City star Edin Dzeko, will come away happy. "It will be a 2-2 draw," said Susic, which would see Bosnia progress on the away goal rule.
Irish eyes smiling
The Irish have not had a lot to smile about in the past decade - most notably the infamous 2010 FIFA World Cup play-off against France - since they went out on penalties to Spain in the second round of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
However, some of the players from that match including Robbie Keane, Kevin Kilbane, Damien Duff and Shay Given look set to end their distinguished international careers with an appearance in the Euro finals.
Their veteran Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni, though, says he will not accept they are through until the final whistle goes in Dublin. "The cat is in the sack, but the sack is not closed. The cat is in it, but it's open - and it's a wild cat," said Trapattoni referring to the play-off.
"I have been many times at the edge of a cliff. I know these situations. I have been to many big tournaments and matches like this are what I call top level matches. But it's not necessarily important to achieve one objective, we have to focus on what comes next. This is my law. I never look back, I always look forward," added the 72-year-old Italian.