Costa the Hero as Portugal Waddle into Quarterfinals

by Ben Ayuko

{image by AFP}

Portugal vs Slovenia turned out to be more dramatic than anyone might have thought it would be. When the draw first happened, it seemed like it would be just another stepping onto the ultimate goal for Portugal. Nobody expected the game to be somewhat of an exhibit showcasing Ronaldo battling some inner demons.

The first 90minutes was more of a tale of some missed chances and decent saves as Portugal struggled to find a way past Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Slovenia’s defense also looked very inspired, particularly Vanja Drkušić who was having quite a good game against the notorious Cristiano Ronaldo. With the score tied at 0-0 after 90min, we ventured into extra-time. This is where the drama really started.

First came the penalty. Portuguese substitute Diogo Jota picked up the ball from the halfway line before carrying it all the way into the Slovenia penalty box, where he was then brought down by the aforementioned Drkušić. This would kick off a domino effect whereby previously known heroes would turn into momentary zeroes. First, it was Drkušić for giving away the penalty. Next came Ronaldo, ready to routinely tuck away the spot kick and ensure safe passage for Portugal into the quarter finals. Except, he missed. Or should I say Oblak saved it. Either way, it didn’t enter. And Ronaldo couldn’t hold back the tears as he felt the weight of his country’s disappointment on his shoulders. The 2nd zero.

Still, we had 15min to go in extra time, and anything could happen.

And it very nearly did. A mistake from Portuguese veteran, Pepe, the 3rd zero, let Benjamin Šeško run through on goal, one on one with Diogo Costa, the Portuguese goalkeeper. Sesko, the young jewel of Slovenian football, would add himself to the list as the 4th zero, as he missed the opportunity to secure qualification for his country. Or should I say the keeper saved it. Either way, it should’ve been a goal, but it wasn’t. Extra time was now up. It was time for the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Now, this is where everything changed. Because, as close as the game actually was, the gulf in quality between the 2 sides shone brightly here. Up stepped the Slovenian heroes, Josip IličićJure Balkovec and Benjamin Verbič vs Diogo Costa. 3 penalties they took and 3 times they missed, Costa saving each penalty with relative ease. 3 more zeroes.

On the other side, Ronaldo stepped up first, seeking redemption, which he got after slotting the kick passed Oblak and then turning to the crowd and begging for forgiveness for his earlier miss quite earnestly. Next was Bruno Fernandes, who made a mockery of the tense affair, then Bernardo Silva sealed it with an expertly taken shot.

Portugal safely through, Slovenia sent packing, but not before giving us one of the more memorable cup ties of the competition.

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