A Portuguese puzzle: where are the goals?

There’s a mystery at the heart of Portugal’s empty trophy

cabinet: why does a country that produces some of Europe’s best

club talent have so much trouble scoring in international

games?

It’s a riddle that is once again haunting the Portuguese as they

gear up for their second European Championship Group B game against

Denmark on Wednesday. The match follows a defeat in their opener

against Germany – when they played well but failed to find the net

and lost 1-0.

Portugal possesses one of the world’s leading goalscorers at

club level in Cristiano Ronaldo and a highly talented winger in

Nani. But in a four-game winless streak this year it has netted

just one goal.

”That’s the way football is,” Nani said Monday. ”It’s hard to

score in this type of tournament.”

Portugal’s lack of edge in attack has repeatedly denied it the

international honors that could make it the great team it has so

long promised to be. Not even the ”Golden Generation,” which

featured Luis Figo and Rui Costa, could remedy the problem of no

silverware.

The team twice struck the goal frame against Germany, but a good

performance wasn’t enough.

The Portuguese are in trouble in a tough group, with the

Netherlands lying in wait beyond Denmark, and another blank

scoresheet in Lviv, Ukraine, could send them home.

The players are stumped by the goal drought and believe their

luck has temporarily deserted them.

”The ball just doesn’t want to go in at the moment,”

midfielder Miguel Veloso said. ”We have to keep pushing until it

does.”

Coach Paulo Bento has identified the problem: Sunday’s training

was largely dedicated to target practice.

There could be something more fundamental about the

difficulties, though, as there appear to be some missing links in

the squad. It has no playmaker who might come up with unexpected

flourishes that wrongfoot defenses and create sudden openings.

Though Ronaldo and Nani are good, opposition defenders are primed

for them.

A prolific, world-class center forward is also absent. That

could force Bento to realign the attack, even though his resources

are limited. He could spring a surprise against the Danes by

handing 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira his first start.

Oliveira hasn’t even started in the Portuguese league for his

club Benfica, but throwing him into the mix could inspire some new

moves.

Portugal is no stranger to goalscoring troubles.

In the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, Portugal recorded 0-0

draws against Ivory Coast and Brazil, but still advanced.

At Euro 2004, it also lost its opening match, but ended up in

the final – where it once again failed to score and went down 1-0

to Greece.