One of the many differences between elite athletes and mere mortals on the street is a near super-human level of self-belief. So it is no surprise Cristiano Ronaldo is not ready to throw in the towel on Euro 2016 ahead of Portugal's defining game with Hungary on Wednesday.
"We need to continue to believe," Ronaldo insisted after his side drew 0-0 with Austria on Saturday, where a late missed penalty was among a series of chances he failed to convert.
Portugal sit third in the group on two points, behind Iceland on goals scored and two points behind leaders Hungary. They will definitely reach the last 16 with a win but anything else would leave them sweating on other results.
Ronaldo said "we" but in reality he could have said "I" - for not only was it his error from 12 yards which proved costly but it is increasingly clear that he is the only player capable of lifting Portugal above average.
That is not to dismiss the occasional flashes of Nani or Ricardo Quaresma going forward, the intelligent midfield touches of Pedro Moutinho or the brutal defence of Pepe completely. But every team at Euro 2016 has merits as individuals or a group, and without Ronaldo firing on top form, Portugal simply blend into the pack.
“Obviously it wasn’t something we wanted," Ronaldo said. “We had a lot of chances and we did well, but we weren’t able to finish.
"I’m convinced that Portugal will raise their level and qualify."
Hungary on the other hand are a team without a single true star but have shown what can be done when a coach blends the players into something greater than the sum of the parts.
A 2-0 win over Austria and a late 1-1 draw with Iceland has put Hungary in pole position to qualify and finally honour the previous legacy of Hungarian football.
The Aranycsapat, the golden team, lost only once in 42 games from 1950 to 1956. That was the 1954 World Cup final, amid mutterings about mud and football studs, the match officials and West German cynicism. The Hungarians were blessed with talents such as Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskas.
This generation of Hungarian players cannot be compared to that group. But by reaching their first European Championship since 1972 and a first finals since the 1986 World Cup, they are already making their mark in the modern era.
“People live in the past and we need to support this new generation and give them a little time," coach Bernd Storck said.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, we want to motivate and develop the team. After all these years without success it’s great for the fans. We are very happy.”
A draw with Portugal would definitely send Hungary through to the next round and may even be enough to top the group depending on the result in Iceland v Austria. One thing is certain, Hungary are already guaranteed to finish no worse than third.
Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 09:36
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 10:18