Fernando Santos framed Portugal’s Euro 2020 exit as a story of dangerous luck and missed probabilities however the failure to extract the very best from a wealth of attacking abilities was finally what price his staff expensive.
Belgium have been left hanging on to their 1-0 win in Seville, determined by Thorgan Hazard’s swerving strike on the finish of the primary half which earns them a quarter-final assembly with Italy in Munich on Friday.
They may have scored a second with extra precision on the break and as a substitute a slender benefit was at all times going to offer approach to a Portugal onslaught on the finish of breathless tie within the final 16.
“I feel it is an unfair consequence however they scored and we did not,” stated Santos. “Their objective was a shot from nothing, from outdoors the field. We will not management every little thing.”
However whereas the statistics would present Portugal had 24 photographs, six of them heading in the right direction, the circulate of the match had Belgium because the extra bold staff till they needed to defend and their opponents grew more and more determined.
Portugal began with simply over 200 million euros ($238 million) price of expertise of their entrance three, with Cristiano Ronaldo flanked by Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Bernardo Silva of Manchester Metropolis.
When the sport was getting away from them, one other trio price one other 200 million euros entered, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Andre Silva approaching for Jota, Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho.
France’s Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann may be the sharpest beginning trident however even the world champions can not match Portugal’s depth of attacking choices.
And but there was a scarcity of fluidity about them at La Cartuja as gamers that sparkle for his or her golf equipment appeared weighed down by a must put defensive form and organisation first.
There are mitigating circumstances, with Fernandes clearly fatigued on this event as his appearances for the season ticked previous 70 within the group stage.
– ‘No difficulty with Ronaldo’ –
Felix has been drifting for months and wishes rejuvenating after watching most of Atletico Madrid’s La Liga success from the sidelines earlier than being dropped by Portugal too.
And so they have been up towards an skilled Belgian again line, whose greatest days may be behind them however who nonetheless delivered a throwback demonstration of organised, dedicated defence beneath stress.
Dealing with Belgium, the staff ranked primary on the planet rankings for the final three years, after encountering Germany and France of their group, was about as robust a draw as may very well be imagined.
“Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, they’re the masters,” stated Roberto Martinez. “The expertise they’ve makes defending an artwork.”
But there was purpose to anticipate extra from Portugal, who prioritised suppression for many of the first half, a tactic that proved profitable in France 5 years in the past however jarred when adopted by this present crop.
When the push got here late on, it felt frantic quite than deliberate, gamers thrown on off the bench and balls lofted in the direction of the realm in hope greater than expectation.
At one level, Felix was taking part in proper wing-back and Fernandes in defensive midfield.
If the plan was to service Ronaldo, it labored to some extent, after the 36-year-old scored 5 targets – his greatest ever Euro tally – however the sacrifices made by these round him come at a price.
On the last whistle, Ronaldo hurled his captain’s armband to the bottom, Portugal’s early exit now added to his disappointment with Juventus final season in each the Champions League and Serie A.
“He scored 5 targets within the event and OK, he did not rating as we speak however he was a real captain in each sense of the phrase,” stated Santos. “He tried to show the sport round. There isn’t any difficulty with Ronaldo.”
When Ronaldo finally brings his immense worldwide profession to an finish, a extra progressive coach than Santos may compensate the loss by shifting the steadiness and method.
For now, Portugal flip to subsequent yr’s World Cup in Qatar, needing to discover a approach to illuminate not simply Ronaldo however these arising behind him.