Despite the domination of France at Euro 2016, Portugal surprised everyone and walked away with the trophy. Portugal were tactically fantastic against France and fully deserved their victory, winning in extra time by a score of 1-0 to end the tournament on a high. Portugal weren’t by any means the best team at Euro 2016, but in the end, they outplayed and outclassed every single one of their knockout stage opponents and deserved to win the trophy.
Everyone Played A Part
Every single player played a part in Portugal’s Euro 2016 win. In fact, A Seleção were the only side at the tournament to feature every single one of their outfield players. Every single outfield player played in the tournament for Portugal, showing not only their strength in depth, but the trust that the manager has in his players. Most other teams like Wales, Poland and even France to an extent were playing the exact same lineup every single game, tiring their players out. But Portugal, changed things up often and chopped and changed their lineup until they got it right. This notion had to have played a part in their amazing fitness levels that allowed them to win several games late on. When other teams got tired, they had the legs to keep going.
The manager has to be credited for his brilliance too. Fernando Santos wasn’t afraid to drop big-name players like Ricardo Carvalho and Joao Moutinho when they weren’t playing well for less-experienced players like Renato Sanches and Jose Fonte. He didn’t fear the fact that he didn’t have a big-name centre forward and instead trusted Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo to hold the line and do the job of scoring goals which they were extraordinarily successful at during the tournament, finishing as joint second highest scorers at the tournament. When they weren’t playing well in the group stages and conceded 4 goals in 3 matches, Fernando Santos changed things around to ensure that they would be better equipped to win matches in the knockout stages. After he brought in players like Jose Fonte, Adrien Silva and Renato Sanches, Portugal started to play a lot better and 4 goals conceded in the first 3 matches, turned into just 1 goal in the next four matches. He was also very good throughout the tournament with his substitutions. It was a substitute Ricardo Quaresma, who scored the winning goal against Croatia and it was two substitutes, Joao Moutinho and Eder who combined for the winning goal in the final against France that won Portugal the tournament. In addition, the Portuguese manager built the team around his best players and made sure his team were playing to his best players’ strengths. But that being said, it wasn’t just about Cristiano Ronaldo. It was about Nani, it was about Pepe, the goalkeeper Rui Patricio, 22 year old left-back Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Mario, William Carvalho, 18-year old Renato Sanches, every single player played a part in Portugal’s win. Even the fitness coach! Portugal were easily the fittest team of the tournament, winning three of their four knockout games in extra time when they had the legs to go on and win matches when their opposition was tired.
A Don’t Lose Mentality
While most other Euro 2016 countries were playing to win every match and were desperately pushing forward to try and get goals and win at all costs, Portugal were just hanging on, keeping their shape and trying not to lose matches. They had a shaky start in the group stages of the competition, but they still didn’t lose a single match and progressed to the next round. Then the manager changed things around and the team started to play a lot better. But, they still just hung on in games and made sure they didn’t lose. It took them extra time to beat Croatia, a penalty shootout to beat Poland and extra time to beat France in the final. But they deservedly won all three of those games. Sometimes you don’t have to have a winning mentality to win games. Sometimes you just have to ensure you don’t lose and play off of key moments in matches when you can go on and get a goal or two. Portugal demonstrated that to perfection at the European Championship this summer.
Although Portugal were excellent in both attack and defense, it was their defense that really won the nation this tournament. Conceding just one goal in four high-stake knockout matches at an international tournament is incredibly hard to do and illustrates just how good Portugal’s defense have been at this tournament ever since the knockout stages. It was clearly something that Fernando Santos worked with the players in training on and tweaked until he found the perfect formula, but the manager can only do so much. It’s the players that have to put it into action and all four back-line players plus the goalkeeper and midfield ball-winner William Carvalho were outstanding in the knockout stages of this tournament. Their 1-0 win over France in the final was arguably Portugal’s best defensive performance ever at an international tournament. The team collectively made 18 blocks and 36 clearances to keep France away from their net and it all paid off in the end as despite the embarrassment of riches that France had in their squad, Portugal came out victorious.
Good Youth Set-Up
Portugal have one of the best young teams in world football and are developing some of the best young talents in world football. Just last year they made it to the final of the European Under-21 tournament and only lost to Sweden on penalty kicks. Such players like William Carvalho, Joao Mario and Raphael Guerreiro starred at that tournament and carried over their form to this tournament. These three were three of Portugal’s most important players at the tournament, but they weren’t the only standout young players for Portugal at Euro 2016. Bayern Munich’s latest signing, Renato Sanches is only 18 and broke several of Cristiano Ronaldo’s records at this tournament. Andre Gomes meanwhile played decently well in the Group Stages and is only 22. Meanwhile Cedric Soares and Danilo Perieira both played very well at this tournament and at the age of 24 they are only going to get better. With so many of Portugal’s best players being so young and coming through all at the same time, the future looks bright for Portugal and their success is likely to continue.
Portugal weren’t excellent at Euro 2016, but they outplayed every single team when it mattered and completely deserved to win every single one of their knockout matches. Their youthful energetic persona, defensive stability and “don’t lose” mentality won the nation the tournament. And it wasn’t just Cristiano Ronaldo that won Portugal their first ever international tournament. Every single player played a part and as a result Portugal dominated in games, had the legs to go on and win late on and are deserving winners of Euro 2016.