Teammates rushed to rally round Polish midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski after a crucial penalty miss handed Portugal victory in their Euro 2016 quarterfinal on Thursday.
“We lost as a team, and not just one player,” said striker Robert Lewandowski, who gave Poland a second-minute lead with his first goal of the tournament.
With Cristiano Ronaldo again subdued, 18-year-old compatriot Renato Sanches took centre stage and hit Portugal’s leveller on 33 minutes.
With no more goals, and Ronaldo missing chances, the match was pushed to penalty kicks where heartbreak is guaranteed.
Blaszczykowski, popularly known as ‘Kuba’, was Poland’s hero in their last 16 clash with Switzerland. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder hit Poland’s opener then booking their ticket their first last-eight place at a major finals when he converted from the spot after Granit Xhaka missed his effort at the penalty kicks.
The result meant Poland preserved their record of never having lost in 18 games when Blaszczykowski has scored.
In the latest penalty kicks, Blaszczykowski’s run was ended by Portugal ‘keeper Rui Patricio. When Ricardo Quaresma stepped up to score on the next kick Portugal went through 5-3 on penalties.
“It doesn’t matter that he (Blaszczykowski) missed his kick, he’s still a great player and a big friend,” said defender Kamil Glik, who is moving from Torino in Serie A to Monaco in the French league.
“He saved us a lot of times in this tournament by scoring in other games. That’s what we told him.”
Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who left his place to Lukasz Fabianski because of injury, suggested nerves may have got to Blaszczykowski.
But while admitting their disappointment, he believes Poland’s march to the quarterfinals for the first time augurs well for the future.
He said Poland had studied Portugal’s penalty-taking. “But you never know, under pressure people can change where they go (shoot) and unfortunately for us they took their penalties really well today.”
Szczesny added: “We’ve met expectations … we were one step away from being among the top four in Europe, so it’s disappointing on one hand but it’s also a good reason for us to be proud of ourselves as well.
“We’ve had a fantastic journey, it’s disappointing but we’ve done ourselves proud. We’ve done our fans proud and it’s a good start to build on for this team.”
Former Polish great and now the president of the Polish Football Federation, Zbigniew Boniek offered his support to the team for reaching the last eight.
Glik added: “It’s not the biggest disappointment of my career. That’s football, sometimes you lose on penalty kicks.
“We have to stay positive. It was a balanced match in which we had chances just as they did. Portugal are a strong side.”