Lviv: So Portugal are not a one-man band after all, but you may well see some missing person posters outside their training camp because Paulo Bento’s side appear to have lost the real Cristiano Ronaldo.
For so long Portugal have relied on their superstar, but quite what has happened to him in this tournament is a mystery as he followed up an average display against Germany with a woeful one against Denmark.
The only thing that resembles the player who scored 43 times for Real Madrid last season was the peacock strut because everything else was lacking.
Having cruised into a two-goal lead and rarely looked in trouble against pedestrian opposition, Portugal saw Denmark pull two goals back through Nicklas Bendtner while Ronaldo missed two one-on-one chances, the second so bad the whole stadium jeered him. Silvestre Varela’s 87th minute strike made it 3-2 in Portugal’s favour.
Pepe gave Portugal the lead with a firm header at the near post, meeting Joao Moutinho’s corner firmly and with enough direction to find the top corner despite the presence of a defender on the line.
Denmark were second best all over the pitch and Portugal doubled their advantage in simple fashion. A poor header from Simon Poulson failed to relieve the pressure and Nani picked out the run of Helder Postiga to the near post and he swept the ball past Stephan Andersen.
There didn’t seem to be a way back into the game for the Danes, who were also grateful to some weak finishing from Ronaldo who had little impact in open play, although he did see a free-kick deflect off the wall and loop narrowly over.
Denmark, though, scored with their first proper chance, substitute Jacob Poulson producing a flighted pass over the head of the defence for Michael Krohn-Delhi to run on to.
Unselfishly, he saw Nicklas Bendtner unmarked as the goalkeeper ran out and put a header back across goal for the Arsenal striker to nod into an empty net.
Whether the goal should have stood, however, is debatable as Bendtner — who has scored in five consecutive games against Portugal — had been at least a yard offside when Poulson’s pass was sent into the area.
When he becomes active after that is a matter of infuriating inconsistency, but it set up the second period nicely.
Denmark continued to play as though they could not be bothered with the hassle of a comeback and Portugal cruised, Ronaldo’s poor form continuing when he shot straight at Andersen after Postiga has dummied Nani’s pass to give him a clear run on goal.
Denmark needed something special and they almost got it, William Kvist’s half volley from 25 yards a smidgeon wide.
Ronaldo should have made it safe for his side, but having picked out by Nani, one of the deadliest finishers in the game side-footed a shot well wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
With ten minutes remaining Christian Eriksen’s deep cross was headed in by Bendtner, but Denmark’s celebrations were cut short when substitute Silvestre Varela lashed the ball home in the 87th minute.
The result means Denmark and Portugal both have three points with one game left.
After the match, Portugal coach Bento, however, said that Ronaldo is a great player who was “inefficient” at key moments.
Bento, who said his side could have won the Group B game with less suffering, denied that Ronaldo was frustrated with his display and rejected suggestions the forward was under pressure.
“He is a player of enormous ability who was not efficient in a couple of situations he found himself in,” Bento told reporters.
“He has played two good games. There is not a single player among the 23 in the squad who feel any sense of frustration, they all have feelings of happiness and satisfaction and a sense of responsibility for the game in four days’ time.”
“He’s not under pressure from us, he’s here to help us resolve our problems.”
Defender Pepe also stood up for his captain.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world but even the best make mistakes, so we’re here to support him,” he said.
“He’s just one more player in the team, he can’t carry Portugal on his back, it was his turn to make a mistake today but he helped make it possible for us to be here in the first place.”
About the match, Bento said: “Their equaliser was unfair at that stage of the match. We could have won the game more comfortably and with less suffering.”
Meanwhile, Denmark’s Bendtner could face Uefa action for ambush marketing because of his celebration after he scored his second goal.
Bendtner celebrated on Wednesday lifting his shirt and dropping his shorts slightly to reveal a gambling firm’s name on his underpants. Minutes later, the bookmaker sent a Twitter message with a photograph claiming that Bendtner was wearing his lucky underwear.