Euro 2016: An in-depth analysis of Portugal's win over France
Portugal did to France what Greece had done to them 12 years ago on their home soil to win an international trophy for the very first time in their history. In another tight affair that has characterised their campaign, Portugal defended deep to frustrate the hosts before picking their moment of glory through an unlikely source in Eder in the final of the UEFA Euro 2016.
Fernando Santos had the returning Pepe as the only change from the 2-0 semi-final win over Wales keeping the 4-1-3-2 shape with Jao Mario on the left and Renato Sanches on the right behind the two forwards.
Didier Deschamps stuck with the same line-up which saw off Germany which meant that his men had had only a couple of days rest for the biggest match of their international careers.
Pogba dropped deep to help bring the ball out with Sissoko moving into the middle frequently. Adrien Silva was assigned the task to press high up as Ronaldo and Nani would split wide though Portugal fell back in a traditional 4-4-2 further down the pitch. He was thus able to deny Pogba from having too much time on the ball. Carvalho marshalled the front of the defence attempting to deal with Payet’s movement infield while keeping an eye on Griezmann.
Sissoko leads France’s Charge
Having declared before the game that he preferred winning over playing attractive football, Santos stuck to his game plan of frustrating the opponents while looking to play on the break. France though started off with real energy and gusto as they had against Germany with Sissoko drifting infield from the right and helping swarm the Portuguese midfield, not unlike the moths which had taken over the stadium. His runs from deep were a real cause of concern for the Portuguese defence with their man-marking tactics unable to keep up with the midfielder’s bursts of pace and drive into the heart of their defence.
Linking up with Griezmann who was dropping deep into pockets of space, France had the better of the opening 25 minutes or so. The number 7 coming closest to scoring through a looping header from Payet’s clipped pass but was denied by a good save from Rui Patricio.
Sissoko had completed 6 dribbles by half time, attempting three shots, one of which came after an exquisite turn in the 18-yard box.
Change in Shape after Ronaldo’s Substitution
The game lost its momentum after the interruptions due to Ronaldo’s injury. He was replaced by Quaresma though Santos’ game plan of keeping an organised and disciplined defence remained the same. Nani was moved up front with the substitute going on the right wing and it became a 4-5-1 without the ball. This helped in providing Portugal access to the fullbacks and France weren’t able to get their tempo going for the rest of the half. The French pressing too dropped off in intensity and the front four started to become more and more isolated.
Portugal Issues in Possession
Throughout the tournament, Portugal have looked disjointed in attack as their strategy had been to rely on individuals combining together rather than a coherent attacking game. With the wingers wide and midfielders usually deep upon regaining of possession, they lacked presence in between the lines hence most of their attacks came down the flanks. Nani did a good job in the absence of Ronaldo, working hard though he found little joy disconnected from the rest of his teammates. His miscued cross in the 80th minute was his side’s first shot on target as scoring goals was not really that important a part of the plan as keeping a clean sheet at the other end was.
Coman’s Introduction Sparks Life into the Game
With Giroud being marked out of the game by Fonte and Pepe, he was unable to link-up with Griezmann and even Payet who had started off the tournament so brightly, looked out of sorts despite a decent opening half an hour. A long season seems to have finally caught up with the West Ham midfielder who was replaced just before the hour mark by Kingsley Coman.
The winger had his best game of the tournament operating in the left halfspace and constantly receiving the ball behind the midfield before turning and driving forward. The likes of Umtiti played several excellent passes to break the lines to find Coman. His cross for Griezmann would have led to the winner on any other night but the header went agonisingly over the crossbar. Giroud was then set up by the same player but Patricio came up with another good save.
Most of the French chances came from that area of the pitch and in injury time, Evra crossed to the Gignac who had replaced Giroud but the striker saw his effort hit the inside of the post having turned Pepe inside out.
Cautious Deschamps Pays as Portuguese Subs Combine for the Winner
For most of the game, conditions were crying out for Martial’s introduction. Evra and Sagna aged 35 and 33 respectively were limited in attacking their counterparts and stretching play and even though Coman did inject impetus to their attacks, France were never really able to isolate the fullbacks due to their deep positioning. Martial should have been brought on a lot earlier, perhaps for Giroud upfront, but definitely not with just ten minutes of extra time remaining in response to Portugal’s goal. The duo of Pogba and Matuidi also didn’t get forward enough which led to France’s attacker being isolated.
Eder was brought on with a little over ten minutes remaining in the second half and did well with his hold up play, helping his side move further up the pitch. Not often a substitute has both tactical impact, incidental impact in terms of being the goal scorer and individual impact having scored a solo effort. Mario dropped into midfield with Nani moving to the right wing and Quaresma over to the left.
The winner came following a France throw in. Portugal won the ball through Moutinho who had come on for Silva midway through the second half. A couple of passes later, Eder found himself 25 yards from goal having shrugged of Koscielny. Umtiti wasn’t brave enough and the rocket of a shot took a couple of bounces before nestling in Lloris’ bottom right corner.
Resolute Pepe and Co Stay Firm to Deny the Hosts
Portugal’s strength has been its watertight defence which had given away the fewest high-quality chances in the tournament. Though they got lucky on a couple of occasions, Pepe and Fonte were immense, dominating in the air and hardly giving a sniff to Giroud. Marshalled by Carvalho and flanked by the sturdy duo of Cedric and Guerreiro, they shut out the competition’s leading goalscorer in what was their first real test against a quality attacking side.
Santos would feel vindicated by his approach which saw Portugal concede just once in 420 minutes of knockout football. They only led for a grand total of 73 minutes in the entire tournament but they were also behind only for 63 minutes of the 720 which they played. A rock solid defence saw them prevail and having reached 5 semi-finals out of the last 9 in major tournaments in the millennium, the country deserves this even though the manner in which the victory came wouldn’t delight purists.
As for the final, it was understandably another cagey affair with both teams playing cautiously, lacking numbers going forward and the quality further deteriorated as the match progressed. Portugal’s tactical discipline was superb throughout with the likes of Jao Mario working really hard in midfield throughout the 120 minutes. France should have been proactive and their inaction created the conditions for the upset which came through one of the most unlikeliest of sources.