When Robert Lewandowski found space to convert Kamil Grosicki's cross after just 100 seconds, no one knew of the heartbreak that was ahead. In the end it took penalties -- the cruellest part of knock-out football -- for Portugal to finally get the better of Poland. While no Pole will want to re-watch the game, it was still a performance that should leave every single one of Adam Nawalka's players with a sense of pride.
Similarly to their round-of-16 victory against Switzerland, it was a game of two distinct halves for the Poles: one of near-dominance, and another in which they were forced to toil away in defence. Thanks to mammoth performances from centre-backs Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan, Portugal created very few chances, even when they did have the lion's share of possession; while on the one occasion Cristiano Ronaldo slipped through on net, he rather uncharacteristically failed to test Lukasz Fabianski in goal.
Poland's midfield too battled away, with the ever-impressive Grzegorz Krychowiak both marshalling the defence, and surging forward to start some of his team's most dangerous attacks. Both on the left and right sides, their full-backs and wingers combined to cause problems for Portugal, even if they did occasionally look rusty on the defensive side of their game.
Krychowiak himself can feel unlucky with Portugal's equaliser, as it was a deflection off of him which guided the ball just out of Fabianski's reach. Coming at a time when Portugal had begun to get a foothold on the game it wasn't exactly against the run of play, however the Polish back-line had otherwise looked solid, and for the most part untested.
Alas, for the second game in a row, Poland were forced into a penalty shootout, but this time it was a penalty shootout too far. Following three inch-perfect spot kicks, Jakub Blaszczykowski's effort was pawed away by Portuguese keeper Rui Patricio in an undeserved end to the tournament for the former captain. Yet he and his teammates can return home, maybe not to take their place alongside those famous teams of 1974 and 1982, but as heroes nonetheless.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Lukasz Fabianski, 7 -- Barely troubled throughout the regular 90 minutes, claiming most crosses and shots from distance with comfort. He did however have no chance with Renato Sanches' equaliser, which took a massive deflection off of Krychowiak.
DF Lukasz Piszczek, 6 -- As has come to be expected of Piszczek, he linked up well with club-mate Blaszczykowski, getting into a number of threatening attacking positions. A few times, he did however look slightly shaky in defence, and gave the ball away cheaply more than once.
DF Michal Pazdan, 6 -- Strong throughout, and showed his assertiveness against one of the world's best players. Made a couple of important blocks and interceptions, and partnered well with Glik. Did not hesitate to go in strong on Ronaldo, however on occasion was maybe too strong and could have quite easily given away a penalty.
DF Kamil Glik, 8 -- Wherever Portugal placed their cross, Glik seemed to be there. Commanded his defence well, made a number of crucial tackles and blocks, and was dominant in the air. Another excellent penalty in the shootout too.
DF Artur Jedrzejczyk, 7 -- For a right-footed player, Jedrzejczyk has grown into the left-back role well, and has looked dangerous in his attacking play. Fought a good battle against Sanches, which cost him his second yellow of the tournament. Was also lucky that one diving interception slipped inches wide of Fabianski's post.
MF Jakub Blaszczykowski, 6 -- Maybe didn't match some of his previous performances, but was consistent throughout. Helped Piszczek in defence, and created several decent attacks. However it is a shame that his tournament will be remembered for him missing the crucial penalty.
MF Grzegorz Krychowiak, 8 -- Poland's star man. At the heart of most of Poland's best attacks, and helped Pazdan and Glik to nullify the threat of Ronaldo. Sat deep when Poland had the ball, and drove forward, often from the heart of defence, with great regularity.
MF Krzysztof Maczynski, 6-- It's hard to criticise Maczynski. He did little wrong in attack, putting pressure on the Portuguese midfield, and was involved in some good build-up play in the first half. Gave the ball away cheaply once or twice, but often did well in assisting in defence.
MF Kamil Grosicki, 6 -- Started extremely brightly with his assist for Lewandowski's goal, and constantly tormented the Portuguese defence. However, as the game wore on he looked a little rushed, hitting a few wayward shots and crosses.
FW Arkadiusz Milik, 6 -- When he did get involved, he helped Poland's attacking potency, however as the game progressed this was with less and less frequency. Had one half-chance blocked by Pepe, and went close from a Jedrzejczyk cross. Still probably his best performance since the tournament opener though, and converted his penalty well.
FW Robert Lewandowski, 7 -- Timed his run well to score the fastest goal of the tournament, and looked much closer to the Lewandowski which many expected to see in the tournament. Quieter after the break, and struggling to get involved began to drift deeper looking for the ball, hampering his threat up front. Placed his penalty into the corner very well.
MF Bartosz Kapustka, 6 -- Came on with eight minutes left in normal time, and was unable to assert himself on the game. Made one good passing movement late in extra-time, but his shot was snuffed-out.
MF Tomasz Jodlowiec 6 -- Made his appearance in the first period of extra-time, and while fairly composed on the ball, did little to change the course of the game.