Euro 2016 Final: Portugal 1-0 France - Tactical Analysis
UEFA Euro 2016 has finally come to an end after six weeks of drama, excitement and colourful action – and though it hasn’t always been the most enjoyable, it’s fair to say it has kept us intrigued right from the opening day.
Many teams looked like they could go on to win the competition but it’s Portugal who have been crowned the tournament’s champions after they overcame France 1-0 in extra time thanks to a well executed Eder goal saw them kill off any hopes Les Bleus had of a third Euro crown.
Cristiano Ronaldo was replaced by Ricardo Quaresma early in the first half which initially made the task difficult for Fernando Santos’ men, as well as scuppering much of France’s flow, but it didn’t stop the Portuguese from going on to claim their first ever European Championship title.
Let’s cast a tactical eye over why the result ended up the way it did.
France couldn’t find the killer blow
Much like the way Germany floundered against their French vanquishers in the semi-final, Didier Deschamps’ men simply weren't able to conjure the clinical finish they needed to capitalise on the many chances they eked out.
France enjoyed more shots on target than their victorious opponents, but in the end, it counted for nothing because, try as they might, they failed to rattle the net.
Sure, they came close on a number of occasions. Right at the death of normal time, Andre-Pierre Gignac struck the post after Antoine Griezmann had come close through two headed efforts in either regulation half.
It was an incredibly frustrating night for the home supporters as they watched their team’s powers wane considerably the closer they inched away from the early goal they needed, but football is all about scoring goals and although they played more attractive football, were more incisive moving forward and chased the win for longer than Santos’ charges did, they weren’t good enough to transform that into an ability to alter the scoreboard in their favour, and as we’ll discuss it was thanks in large part to the stubbornness of the back-line they attempted to sneak past.
They started the match incredibly brightly and worked hard to try and upset the Portuguese rearguard with some high, intense pressing but though it managed to ruffle their feathers for a certain amount of time, they naturally weren’t able to keep it up for a sustained timeframe.
Losing the way they did was the cruel twist of the knife in their gut they could have done without, but it was never going to be an easy late concession to stomach. It will take them some time to heal from this, but with all the positive, tenacious football we have seen them play this summer it’s safe to say that the immediate future of French football is looking up and they will be fancied to go far at the World Cup in 2018.
Portugal’s rearguard defended like lions
It’s perhaps the words of a French man that best sum up what Portugal achieved when Thierry Henry said the following in the aftermath of the result:
“It's a sad day. We have a lot of Portuguese in France. We'll hear about this for a looong time. You can only win a tournament as a team - perfect example, Ronaldo comes out and Portugal win it. It was like, 'let's do it for him'."
Indeed, there really was something incredible about the way their defensive system worked
Possessed by a desire to win for their injured team-mate Ronaldo they surely were, but as Henry said it was the heroics of the team which ultimately saw them over the line. They could have put on a show for the Real Madrid star all they wanted, but in the end, they decided it was best to become show-stoppers with their wily game-plan.
Some will see it as anti-football for the way they set up to cancel out France but that would be unfair to suggest because it helped them win the match, and in a game where winning is everything, it would be naive to think that this team isn’t worthy of their silverware exploits.
Pepe, in particular, was central to the way the underdogs defended. He wasn’t always pretty in what he did but he was effective and by hook or by crook, he made it work to see them over the line. Almost undone after getting turned inside-out by Gignac, he looked shook for a rare few minutes but the majority of the time the match ticked by, he was coolness personified.
That steely determination spread like wildfire and Rui Patricio was perhaps the best embodiment of that as he popped up with some really excellent saves at pivotal moments in the match to ensure their austere framework was not all for nothing.
Santos’ midfield tactics worked wonders
Key to their strategy was to nullify the threat of Griezmann, and although he enjoyed a couple of great chances inside the box, they managed to cancel him out where he is best, in his more central role.
By denying them much space, their 4-1-3-2 system allowed them to stifle the Atletico Madrid man, and although he was always going to get some chances to hurt them, they limited that threat as much as was possible. Squeezing the space between the lines meant that it was Moussa Sissoko who was forced to attempt some charging runs at the defence and while he caused them problems, he lacked the finesse of his diminutive team-mate.
It was a really clever ploy because in one fell tactical swoop they were able to remove such a massive threat, and with seemingly little change needed on their part to do so.
What’s more, by ceding possession for much of the match and sitting back, they were able to feel more comfortable in what they were doing. Dare it be said, the removal of Ronaldo from the field forced them to play without as much of a focal point as they would have liked and that mean their midfielders became more and more withdrawn.
Of course, there were moments when they were able to spring forward on the counter-attack and play some simple threaded passes along the floor to transition from defence to attack in a flash, but they were rare and it actually took them until the 80th minute before they registered a shot on target.
It worked for them in the end and nobody can now take that away from them now as they continue their celebrations after a hugely well thought-out, and historic, win.