Portugal secured the win that they needed to stay in the competition against Russia last night, whilst setting up a mouth-watering winner takes all tie against Spain on Saturday after goals from Maniche and Rui Costa gave the hosts a two-nil win in Lisbon.
It was only Portugal's second game in the tournament, but already, due Greece's unexpected draw with Spain earlier in the day, they were fighting for their lives. Of course, if Portugal hadn't fell to that same Greece side on the opening day of the tournament then Spain's result wouldn't have been a problem and both wouldn't have such a nail biting tie to face oat the weekend, but it seems that the God's, in an Olympic year, are favouring Greece and that meant that Luis Figo and co had to win to make sure of further participation.
That fact was reflected in Felipe Scolari's selection as he made wholesale changes from the side that failed on the opening game. Paola Ferreira, Fernando Couto, Rui Jorge and, surprisingly, Rui Costa were all axed from the starting eleven. Three of the changes affected the back four as Scolari looked to toughen up a defence that conceded too easily on Saturday.
Porto midfielder Deco, whose selection for Portugal despite being Brazilian is still causing controversy, was brought into the middle of the park in of place of Costa, with Miguel, Valente, Carvalho all coming in at the back.
The homes support was vocal in the early stages but there was an undeniable nervousness in the crowd at the prospect of being the first team to exit the competition - as elimination was the prize for the losers tonight. With an Iberian derby looming against Spain on Saturday, that was not a prospect that pleased most of the occupants in the Estadio Da Luz in Lisbon, so defeat had to be avoided at all costs.
Portugal wasted no time in taking up the challenge and had got the early goal that they so desperately wanted, and the man who won a starting place tonight, Deco, was instrumental in creating it. Receiving the ball around thirty yards from goal, the Porto man eluded a challenge before finding Maniche in the box with a fine pass. On receiving it Maniche wasted no time, turning a firing a low shot in to the keeper's left-hand post.
That should have been the catalyst for host nation to play with a little bit more confidence and push to keep their hopes in this competition alive. But, like Saturday, Portugal looked sluggish and nervous in front of a baying and expectant crowd, and even the sending off of Russian keeper Ovchinnikov could not lift them to the level of performance that we have all expected from them.
The Russian keeper can certainly feel hard done by by his red card. It was in injury time of the first-half that he reacted to a short back pass and came charging out of his box. With Deco closing down on him, Ovchinnikov opted to charge in with his feet and won possession of the ball just outside his box. At first it did seem that he had also used his hand in winning the ball, but replays showed that, if anything, he had tried to get his hand out of the way. Unfortunately, referees don't have the benefit of such replays and Ovchinnikov's game, and tournament, came to a rather ignominious end.
At that point the feeling was of 'game over'; that Portugal would simply steam roller their opponents. But that was not the case as, like more than one of the big guns in this competition, Portugal struggled to find their rhythm and the longer the game went on the uncomfortable feeling grew in the heaving stands of the Stadium of light.
It took the introduction of Rui Costa, whose dropping will have hurt him given that this could be his last major tournament, to take the heat of the Portuguese and secure the win that they so desperately needed. Linking well with Ronaldo, who had replaced Figo in the latter stages, the veteran midfielder continued his run and met the young Manchester Utd's winger's sumptuous cross to stab home with only two minutes remaining.
Such wicked luck was harsh on the Russian's who have played two of the favourites of this competition now and have hardly embarrassed themselves, yet they have become the first team to fall only five days in. As for Portugal, well the result confirmed that Greece will qualify and it is now between Spain and the hosts to fight out for the right to see who will join them on Saturday. That is a scenario that no-one could have predicted, and it is maybe the first sign that, like the Champions' League this year, we could have unexpected winners of Euro 2004.