France is the champion of minimalism, but beats Portugal in a series of clear penalties

France’s game against Portugal ended in the same way it had started (0-0) after 120 minutes, although Portugal had a better chance of winning. But João Félix was the only one to miss in the penalty shoot-out, meaning France, already champions of minimalism, will face Spain in the semi-finals next Tuesday.

As the French celebrated at the Volkspark, Cristiano Ronaldo’s sixth and final European Championship came to an end in Hamburg. The Portuguese star, who failed to make a name for himself in Germany, had previously indicated that this would be his last European Championship, having won a European title with his country in 2016.

The match, which was a repeat of the 2016 European Championship final, only became entertaining after the break. When Portugal in particular dared to attack more, the spaces became bigger and the individual quality of the attack-minded players came to the fore, although for Portugal it was 41-year-old defender Pepe who stood out and for France the tireless midfielder N’Golo Kanté who was the best.

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Guus Peters prescribe from Volkskrantabout football and tennis.

Tactical straitjacket

This is the case with Portugal and France, countries that have a surplus of technically superior footballers above average, but who in the national team are too tightly confined to the tactical straitjacket of the national coach, although this was especially true in the case of France.

Deschamps’ team, which always thinks defensively, only managed to score one goal at this Euro, despite having a lot of quality in attack. Mbappé converted a penalty against Poland. The other two goals were own goals. France also failed to score against Portugal, but qualified for the last four countries of the Euro.

Portugal and France entered the quarter-finals knowing that, as title favourites, they would hardly be able to convince at this European Championship. Portugal only convincingly beat Turkey in the group and struggled against Slovenia in the round of 16. After 120 fruitless minutes, national coach Roberto Martinez’s team took better penalties.

France coach Didier Deschamps celebrates victory with Kylian Mbappé.Image AFP

Value added

The spotlight in that match was reserved for Cristiano Ronaldo, who always makes the Portuguese talk. The 39-year-old star missed a penalty in extra time, burst into tears, but made the most of his penalty in the shoot-out. Beyond that missed penalty, throughout the tournament the question has been raised as to what added value the Saudi Al-Nassr player still has.

Ronaldo did not score a single goal and provided an assist for Bruno Fernandes. He also claimed one free kick after another, but failed to take any chances. Even more surprising: against France, Bruno Fernandes had the chance to try just before half-time, when the Portuguese were awarded a free kick around the box. The ball went over the bar and was also seen by Ronaldo, who was invisible throughout the match, but allowed himself to remain standing for 120 minutes.

So far, opponents France have also been focusing heavily on the star, for whom the tournament is still not going as expected. Mbappé broke his nose in the opening game against Austria and has been wearing a mask ever since. The speedy forward said earlier that the mask is making things difficult for him: it limits his vision and the sweat on his face cannot be removed. In extra time, he went to the side after receiving a ball on the nose.

Criticism of France

Mbappé has hardly shown his extraordinary class, although that can be said of the entire French team. Deschamps is not concerned by all the criticism of his team’s minimalist play. For the coach, who led France to the World Cup title in 2018, only the result matters. He doesn’t care about entertainment.

Portugal tried to attack more than France in the first half, especially through Leão. The AC Milan striker was suspended for one match earlier this Euro for two fouls, for which he received two yellow cards. But against France he created danger down the left flank before the match even got underway in the second half.

As the spaces widened and both teams realised that scoring a goal was the easiest way to reach the semi-finals, Deschamps brought in an extra attacker in Dembélé in favour of midfielder Griezmann, which improved France’s play a little.

Initial goal chances

Kolo Muani appeared in a promising position for goalkeeper Diogo Costa, but his shot was blocked by the leg of a Portuguese defender. Shortly afterwards, Eduardo Camavinga thought he had scored the first real French goal from open play. But the midfielder fired wide.

Portugal also had chances for the opening goal. João Cancelo released Bruno Fernandes with a nice through ball for Mike Maignan. The goalkeeper made a clever save and was then also alert when he turned away Vitinha’s shot from close range.

There were chances, but no goals, also because Portuguese player Nuno Gomes was free to score from the edge of the box in the last minute of extra time, but he did not find the corner sufficiently. So, in the end, penalties had to decide the match and France still left the field as winners.

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