Euro review: Final
I have written less than 400 words about Portugal during this Euro. To give you some context: this is my 8th article covering the tournament. I average 1200 words per article. Meaning roughly 5% of my pieces were about Fernando Santos’ side.
That can be down to any old number of reasons, an outsider can say: you haven’t written daily, you haven’t done any previews, you don’t do tactical breakdowns. All of this is true, to an extent: I have indeed written less than a tournament of such magnitude deserves, I didn’t write any previews (mostly because I’m not steeped in the NTs’ matters enough to give you a background worth reading) and I’m no tactical expert. But the driving force behind me not covering Portugal enough is very simple: I didn’t think they were worth writing about.
In a tournament which will go down as quite dull overall (108 goals in 51 games and, on the very basic level, fun is linked with goals to at least casual observers) Portugal have been the absolute champions of dull. So maybe it is fitting they have won the whole thing.
Of course you won’t find a lot pundits or commentators saying this. They’ll hail Portugal’s grit, their experience, their tactical set-up and Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo. The captain, the leader, the inspiration. The man who took 45 shots during this tournament, only put 11 on target and scored 3 times. Who has rescued the underdogs Portugal from losing to mighty Hungary.
Whose substitution in the final made Santos’ side look like a balanced unit. But who hasn’t forgotten to make the win about himself and his six-pack. An example to aspire to, no less.
Funny as it may sound, I once again don’t know what to say about Portugal, even though they have won, even though it’s the final and there’s no escaping here, I can’t not cover Santos’ side like I purposefully did for the past month. I suppose their greatest strength is their style of football. Like Manchester United for the past two years, Portugal has been able to suck the joy out of football games regardless of the opposition. Meaning Portugal effectively neutralised opponents and made them play by their rules. Which is ideally what you want your team to do, but the manner in which Portugal did it…
Call me a purist, an idealist, but I don’t think football should be like that. At times like these I completely understand Arsene Wenger, for whom the style is very important, who instructs his teams to play proactive, attacking, aesthetically-pleasing football. It’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t want Diego Simeone at Arsenal. There is a kind of beauty about the way he sets up Atletico, it was joyous to watch Atleti beat Barca and Bayern Munich, but I wouldn’t be able to watch this 50 games a season. And while Atletico are undoubtedly more refined in their approach than Portugal has been, the general idea is roughly the same.
And France failed to cope with it. Whether it was the nerves, some players falling short of their usual standard, tactical mistakes from Deschamps or a combination of these (most likely) France looked only marginally better than Portugal. Indeed, Portugal started to gain footing in the game towards the end of normal time, so when they scored it didn’t look against the run of play all that much. There was a spectacular double save from Lloris, Raphael hit the bar from a freekick which wasn’t (cheers, Clattenburg), and then Eder’s distance shot found the bottom corner with an air of finality.
France weren’t completely toothless, but I think we can expect as much from a team that made the final. However Rui Patricio was in stellar form, making an overall 7 saves and some of them (Griezmann’s header, Giroud’s low shot, Sissoko’s two strikes on target) were pretty inspiring. But there were at least two occasions when Patricio was helpless – Griezmann’s header and Gignac’s shot – and France can only have themselves to blame.
Not for profligacy only too. Some selection choices were really eyebrow-raising. For example, why has Deschamps persevered with Pogba the entire tournament? He didn’t hesitate to drop Kante or Rami, who have been doing quite well. But Deschamps saw Sissoko and Umtiti can be quite good too. What has Pogba done to deserve such special treatment? He was woeful for someone playing as close to the strikers and erroneous when moved to a deeper position.
Pogba may be wonderful for Juventus, I can’t testate to that, I don’t watch their games, but he was nothing special for his national team.
Also, having watched the entire tournament, I’m still dubious as to what’s the point of Gignac. He’s not as good as Giroud at link-up play and not mobile enough to justify his inclusion over, say, Lacazette. Or to be given this many chances over Martial up front. Gignac made 6 appearances, all but one from the bench, however he failed to impact the proceedings in any meaningful way.You can point at the fact he hit the post and “could have won it for France”, I can say it would have been a miracle. Even the best need more than one chance per game to score, Gignac’s not the best. The trick here is to have several chances to score a goal, with him it’s usually one chance per game.
All of this is very sad. The best team not always wins, plus everyone has his own definition of what makes for the best team, however Portugal strongly remind me of Italy winning the World Cup in 2006 and that’s not a compliment. The key difference here is that Italy actually qualified from top spot in their group (with 7 points), smashed Ukraine in the quarter-final (as they should have) and then beaten the hosts Germany in the semis. Incidentally, it was France Azzurri have beaten in the final, after Les Blues knocked out Spain, Brazil and Portugal.
I’ll leave it here. Back when something of note pops up.