How Fernando Santos plotted Portugal's path to glory
Fernando Santos came to France with a plan: to win UEFA EURO 2016. Few thought it possible, but just as he had done throughout the knockout rounds, he got his tactics spot on as Portugal stunned France to achieve glory. Here is how he did it …
The night started with good news. Centre-back Pepe was fit having missed the victory over Wales and Santos had few doubts about throwing him back in. His reward was a masterly showing from Portugal’s star man at this tournament – though he won’t get the headlines – and Pepe’s presence beside José Fonte kept Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann in check. One towering header in the dying moments of extra time summed up his heroic display.
Keeping his head after losing Ronaldo
If things threatened to go awry in Saint-Denis when Cristiano Ronaldo limped off following a Dimitri Payet challenge, Santos ensured the talisman’s absence did not affect Portugal’s mentality. The message was not to panic. Bringing on Ricardo Quaresma preserved the 4-4-2 diamond set-up, and Portugal kept to their game plan. There was a realisation from every player that they would have to work that bit harder without their skipper and Santos brought that out of them.
Stifling the French midfield
While Portugal’s football may not be the most beautiful, everyone fills a specific role and the strategy is clear. Recalling William Carvalho was a bold move following Danilo’s showing against Wales, but the Sporting man was vital against France. Sitting in front of the back four, he was always available and demanding the ball, while defensively he helped squeeze out Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba.
The tireless Adrien Silva, introduced by Santos against Croatia to restrict Luka Modrić despite having not started any group matches, was pivotal alongside Carvalho – further evidence of how Santos nailed his tactical decisions both on Sunday and throughout the championship.
With Portugal containing France but unable to create chances, Santos mixed things up. While favouring a 4-4-2, he is not wedded to the system and after inserting the guile of João Moutinho, Santos also brought on Éder and went to a 4-3-3. It was a brave manoeuvre, to remove Renato Sanches and change shape with France looking the stronger outfit, yet it swung the pendulum in Portugal’s favour. Moving Nani and Ricardo Quaresma out wide allowed them to play their natural games and they appeared much more comfortable there.
Bringing on Éder
Scarcely deployed by Santos until now, the striker was brilliant after being thrown on with 79 minutes gone. He provided a focal point for the attack and, more crucially, an out ball. Portugal had struggled to make things stick up top and with Éder, almost a throwback to an old-fashioned No9, Santos gave them a new offensive edge that unsettled the French back line. A thorn in France’s side from the moment he entered the fray, he shrugged off Laurent Koscielny to fire in the winner with some vintage forward play.