A Portuguese puzzle: where are the goals?

A Portuguese puzzle: where are the goals?

Published Jun. 11, 2012 1:56 p.m. ET

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.