KEIR RADNEDGE in MARSEILLE: Teenager Renato Sanches stole the thunder of Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal ground further into the semi-finals of Euro 2016 with a 5-3 shootout victory over Poland after a 1-1 extra-time draw in Marseille.
The 18-year-old, who has just cost Bayern Munich €35m from Benfica, opened up with a superb first-half goal after Poland had snatched a second-minute lead. He remained a danger throughout the 120 minutes before nervelessly converting Portugal’s second penalty kick.
This was the first time coach Fernando Santos had put Renato in to the starting line-up but the second time he had been selected as man of the match. Portugal thus progressed to the semi-finals for the second successive tournament even though they have yet to win a match in 90 minutes and finished only third in their first-round group.
Renato, standard bearer for the latest outstanding generation of young Portuguese players, said: “It’s a wonderful moment for the team and for me personally. We’ve been working hard and doing our best. Some people have criticised us but we dont care because we’re in the semi finals and we’ll keep on trying to play our best.
“It’s good to have Lady Luck on your side.”
Renato demonstrated the self-confidence youth when coach Fernando Santos came to select his penalty takers. He said: “The boss asked who wanted to shoot. Cristiano said he wanted to be first and I said I’d be second. I was confident. When it was my turn I just did what I always do: I picked a side and put the ball in there.”
Coach’s high praise
Santos broke his normal convention of not talking about individual players when it came to the subject of Renato. He said: “Renato will become even better. He’s an amazing player. He reminds me of Mario Coluna, the great old Portugal player.”
Coluna was playmaker for the Benfica team who won two European cups and the Portugal side who reached finished third at the 1966 World Cup. Praise cannot come much higher.
Yet Santos contributed to the youngster’s success on the night. Renato began in the centrol role behind Ronaldo but, in the attempt to recover lost composure after Robert Lewandowski’s second-minute opening goal, Santos switched Renato to the right wing.
It was from this position that he cut inside to score his 33rd-minute equaliser and then cause Poland all sorts of trouble.
Santos said: ” The first few minutes didnt go our way. We have some new players here and their heads were in the clouds, they were dreaming. We were shaky for a while but we got our feet back on the ground.
“I made some changes, put Renato on the right and we scored with an amazing strike by the kid. Some of the players were knocked out after having two play extra time for two games in a row but we’re all happy.
“Reaching the semi-finals is a dream for me but even bigger for my players. I’m very proud of them.”
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