This Euro is being considered as the tournament of upsets. Minnows like Iceland have knocked out England, whereas, Wales have done miraculously well and reached to the semis defeating Belgium – one of the title favorites. But their dream run was ended by Portugal as Cristiano Ronaldo’s men marched on towards the final which is probably the biggest surprise of UEFA EURO 2016.
Nobody considered Portugal as finalists after their horrific display in 2014 World Cup where they suffered a shambolic group stage exit. Since then, they steadily progressed under new boss Fernando Santos and showed unswerving improvement. Now they are only one step away from the glory and set to contest against the host nation France who thrashed world champions Germany 2-0 in the other semifinal.
Many might consider Portugal’s achievement as fluke and tag them undeserving and lucky; but if we analyze their performance, they have strategically outplayed their opponents so far.
Awareness of limitations: Portugal’s biggest caliber has been the awareness of their limitations. Credits go to Portuguese boss Fernando Santos who has dealt with the issues and helped each and every individual to deliver their level best. Portugal do not have any quality center forward, thus, the boss has fielded a team keeping Cristiano Ronaldo as False 9. Ronaldo initially struggled to adjust to this new role, but he tuned himself with time and kept on scoring and assisting in crucial fixtures. Moreover, he has transformed Nani into a team-man and constituted a back-line mixed of youth, elegance and experience. Although the style of play might have been slow and boring at times, it has been decorated purposefully to deal with the opposition and nullify their tactics.
Bench Strength: Portugal might not have many players who play for top clubs of Europe’s top five leagues. Some have already passed their prime, yet, the selection of 23 men squad has been done quite efficiently. Santos has rotated all 20 outfields players in the campaign and most of them have left a mark whenever they got opportunities. Danilo embedded perfectly in suspended William Carvalho’s slot, so did Bruno Alves, who played significantly well in place of injured Pepe. Not to forget Ricardo Quaresma, who has been a super-sub for Portugal by scoring the winning goal against Croatia in the rounds of 16 and netting the winning penalty against Poland which took them through to the semis.
Leaders leading by example: Cristiano Ronaldo might be the official skipper of A Seleção on paper; on field they have multiple leaders in their squad. Pepe is leading the back-line and motivating the youthful full backs Cedric and Raphael Guerreiro to deliver such energetic display. Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho and Nani, the other veterans, have motivated youngsters like Renato Sanches, Joao Mario, Andre Gomes and William Carvalho to be courageous and mettlesome throughout the tournament. They have been much disciplined compared to World Cup 2014 and avoided unnecessary controversy and suspensions this term.
Cristiano, the maestro and rise of Renato: Ronaldo, the Real Madrid superstar, proved once again why he is treated among the world’s bests. It could have been a failure campaign for him as well as for his country. But he rose to the challenge, motivated the team like a leader and inspired them when it mattered the most. Though it’s not all about CR7, a certain teenager named Renato Sanches has shown the world why Bayern Munich has invested an amount of €80 mil for him. His thunderous equalizer against Poland will not be forgotten soon and his physicality, tireless runs, ball control and maturity have been lauded by football world. Portuguese football is heading in the right direction.
Football is a Team Sport: Football is more a team sport than individual excellence and Portugal is the biggest example of EURO 2016. The squad is nothing compared to the likes of Spain, Germany, France or Italy, yet, they have come up with spirited team display and thus, got their reward. While we are talking about Pepe, Nani, Quaresma, Ronaldo or Renato Sanches, it will be scandalous if we forget to mention the defensive contribution of Jose Fonte, destructive role of William Carvalho, tireless runs of Joao Mario and ever reliable Rui Patricio who is perfectly embedded between the sticks.
Portugal failed to win any of their group stage matches and somehow managed to qualify for round of 16 from the verge of being knocked out. Despite being a slow starter, they picked up at right time and flourished at right moment. They are still unbeaten in the competition but will start as underdogs yet again in the final against France. This is Portugal’s first final in major competitions since EURO 2004 when they were humbled by surprise champions Greece. Football is a game of 90 minutes, and the critics might expect one last surprise from Portugal in this eventful Euro 2016.