The two biggest stars in Euro 2016 are Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both Portugal and Sweden are what people may refer to as one-man teams. It’s interesting to see who each one of them influences his team differently.
Both Sweden and Portugal finished in a 1-1 draw against their first opponents in the tournament. Sweden coming back from 1-0 down against Ireland, Portugal drawing with Iceland after taking an early lead.
Ronaldo had a poor match. In the first half, he was involved, the ball moved through him but he didn’t try to force himself on the game. But Ronaldo, like he tends to do, got frustrated a bit later on, especially after Iceland equalized. He didn’t drift to the wings, instead putting himself in a central position, where it was quite easy to mark him. He didn’t try and draw defenders out of the box with him. Instead, he positioned himself as a very markable target man, and the Portuguese side kept trying to find him, forcing passes towards him. That may be more of a Fernando Santos issue than Ronaldo’s, but the Real Madrid megastar frowning more and more as the match dragged on seemed to be sapping the will and motivation out of his teammates.
Sweden are an even less talented side than Portugal. They play their 4-4-2 like always (Iceland play the same way), but everything good that happens usually has Ibrahimovic’s fingerprint on it. The equalizing goal came after some nice trickery from Ibra at the edge of the box, crossing to the middle and meeting Clark’s head instead of a Swedish player, but it was still enough for a goal.
Ibrahimovic knows his place, and knows there isn’t much to his team besides his ability. But he doesn’t let that fact bring him down (at least not on the outside). He rushes back to defense to defend set pieces, and seems to be doing a lot more motivating than Ronaldo does. When you’re a captain, not to forget the biggest football star in the tournament, it’s hard to expect people to follow when most of your faces indicate you’re unhappy with everyone around.
Happy or not, Ronaldo needs to position himself differently in the upcoming matches. Portugal have more room for creativity and flexibility than Sweden. Ibrahimovic will play where he wishes, but the plan is pretty straightforward. Get the ball to him, open up, and hopefully something good will happen. Portugal are trying to do something more, but Ronaldo isn’t helping them become what they can be, letting his presence become an obstacle instead of assisting.