To earn one of the final four places in Euro 2012, Portugal will face Bosnia and Herzegovina in a double leg elimination match. The action begins on Friday in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina and concludes Tuesday in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.
Coming into qualification, Portugal was considered one of the early favourites to not only advance straight into the tournament but be one of the top teams when everything was stated and done.
Their campaign got off to a rocky begin in Group H when they welcomed Cyprus to Guimaraes. The visitors struck just three minutes into the game to put Portugal on the back foot and even after scoring the tying goal five minutes later, the home side was down once again after giving up a second at the 11 minute mark.
When Manuel Fernandes put Portugal ahead 4-3 at the hour mark of the game they had appeared to survive their opener with maximum points but Andreas Avraam’s header in the 89th minute sent both teams home with a single point.
The campaign did not improve for Portugal when they travelled to Norway for their second group contest. Despite a strong offensive push, especially in the second half of the match, they were unable to equalize after Erik Huseklepp put Norway ahead in the 21st minute and fell to a 1-0 defeat, earning just one point in their first two games.
A begin so poor in fact that prior to resuming international play, Portugal fired manager Carlos Queiroz and replaced him with former Sporting Lisbon coach Paulo Bento.
Bento and his new squad hosted Denmark in his first game and just two minutes apart in the opening half, Manchester United midfielder Nani found the net. His two goals scored in the 29th and 31st minutes; coupled with an 89th minute marker from Cristiano Ronaldo gave Bento and Portugal a 3-1 victory, their first win in the competition.
With the momentum gained from the coaching change and victory, Portugal dispatched Iceland 3-1 in a game that saw Ronaldo score from a free kick after three minutes played and was not really away till substitute Helder Postiga scored in the 72nd minute.
Heading into their second game with Norway, Portugal trailed both them and Denmark by three points and needed a win in order to stay in the thick of Group H competition.
Postiga, who scored the goal that sealed the previous victory, scored the only goal at home against Norway to create the three way tie and grant Portugal to control their own destiny in the group they were picked to win when the competition began.
Perhaps one of the most important games in their progress was the 4-0 victory they earned in Cyprus. After scoring in the first half, Ronaldo’s late penalty goal sparked a three marker finish that helped increase Portugal’s goal differential.
After knocking off Iceland in a wild 5-3 game, they needed only a draw in the final match with Denmark in order to book themselves a place into the main draw of Euro 2012.
The game, played at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen exposed the same defensive deficiencies that popped up for Portugal throughout the qualifying tournament.
They found themselves down two goals just after the hour mark of the contest when Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner headed home to double the Denmark lead. Two minutes into extra time Ronaldo broke the shutout but it was too tiny too late as the Danes held on to capture the group with a 2-1 victory.
Portugal completed in a second place tie with Norway who they split their contests with but due to a superior goal differential were able to advance to the knockout phase for a second chance at qualification.
To make good on that second chance and play in the main draw at Euro 2012 they will have to defeat Bosnia and Herzegovina who were the runner ups in Group D.
While Portugal would be slightly disappointed to have to qualify for the tournament through the knockout phase, Bosnia and Herzegovina came within half an hour of shocking a former world champion and outright winning their group.
For the Bosnians qualification began with a bang in September of last year. They defeated Luxembourg on the road 3-0, scoring all three goals in the first 16 minutes of the game, to open their campaign while watching the group’s favoured team France fall in their opener.
The good feelings however would not last as they were blanked at home in their next match by France who got goals from Karim Benzema and Chelsea’s Florent Malouda.
In their next game, they traded first half goals with Albania, scoring first and then giving up the equalizer to pick up a point on the road.
When qualification resumed in March of this year, Bosnia and Herzegovina was right in the thick of the Group D process.
Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko scored in the 83rd minute for a 2-1 Bosnian victory at home against Romania.
Their next game was in Romania and the home side came out in an attacking posture and overwhelmed Bosnia and Herzegovina with a 3-0 victory that dropped the visitors down to third place.
The group turned for Bosnia and Herzegovina when they welcomed Albania to Zenica. Haris Medunjanin opened the scoring in that contest and after Albania had been reduced to 10-men, Darko Maletic doubled the lead and captured all three points for the home side.
They carried that form into a two game sweep of Belarus including a 1-0 victory on the road that featured a Zvjezdan Misimovic goal and two red cards that reduced the Belarusian side to nine men making their comeback nearly impossible.
Bosnia and Herzegovina clinched their place in the knockout stage with a 5-0 defeat over Luxembourg with familiar faces such as Misimovic and Dzeko finding the score sheet.
The victory sent them into a final day showdown with France, needing an upset victory to claim their spot in the main tournament draw.
The match, which was played at the Stade de France in Saint Denis could have seen Bosnia’s first ever qualification into a major soccer tournament if they were able to overcome the French side.
Dzeko, who would be their leading scorer throughout the qualification process, shocked the stadium when he put the visitors ahead in the 40th minute sending them into half with a chance to defend for the win.
However it was not to be as Emir Spahic fouled Dzeko’s Manchester City teammate Samir Nasri in the area and he converted the penalty to earn the draw and send France directly into Euro 2012.
Bosnia and Herzegovina have a history in playoffs against Portugal as the two teams met in the final knockout stage qualifier for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Portugal advanced into the tournament with a 2-0 aggregate victory scoring both home and away 1-0 wins to eliminate the Bosnians.
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