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Portugal winning Polish hearts

Published: Saturday 23 June 2012, 13.05CET
Cristiano Ronaldo still gets most of the attention, but the atmosphere at Portugal's Opalenica base suggests Paulo Bento's men are quickly becoming Poland's favourite semi-finalists.
by Andy Brassell
from Opalenica
 
 
Published: Saturday 23 June 2012, 13.05CET

Portugal winning Polish hearts

Cristiano Ronaldo still gets most of the attention, but the atmosphere at Portugal's Opalenica base suggests Paulo Bento's men are quickly becoming Poland's favourite semi-finalists.

Summer has finally arrived in western Poland. The sun beat down on the mini-stadium at Portugal's training complex today and as temperatures soared into the mid-30s, local fans packed into the stands with some spilling into an overflow area behind one of the goals for those without a seat.

As the familiar chant of 'Ronaldo, Ronaldo,' piped up from the standing throng, two excitable children stood just down the stairs from UEFA.com had an important difference of opinion. "Ronaldo, Ronaldo," the little girl joined in. "Nie (no) – Nani, Nani," replied the boy next to her. They persisted with their respective chants for a fair few minutes before the players' acknowledgement of the crowd united the whole stand in warm applause.

©AFP/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo is now having to share the limelight

Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly the most high-profile player at UEFA EURO 2012, and his impact has been indisputable, something underlined again by his headed winner to finally break the Czech Republic on Thursday.

Yet, as this morning's scene in Opalenica showed, he is no longer alone as the object of admiration. This small town, 40 minutes' drive from Poznan, has afforded Paulo Bento's squad a warm welcome ever since their arrival almost three weeks ago, and Portugal have responded. Central defender Bruno Alves – one of the squad's five captains – is a popular figure, and as first out for training this morning, waved enthusiastically to a waiting gaggle of schoolchildren.

From the very first day, Hélder Postiga, Raul Meireles, João Moutinho and the rest have been happy to give their time to fans in open sessions, signing autographs and shirts and posing for photos. Now, Portugal's football has started to bowl over Poland as a whole.

The quarter-final was the team's first game outside Ukraine, and the crowd in the capital were keen to support their Czech neighbours. Portugal's insistent quality in the second period won over the crowd as it did the opposition defence, however. New favourites are emerging for fans in Opalenica and beyond.

Last updated: 24/06/12 13.37CET

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