A Selecao’s road to the showpiece vindicates Fernando Santos’ pragmatic approach…

When Fernando Santos took the reigns of Portugal in late 2014 the team was floundering. Eliminated from the group stages in Brazil and having lost their first Euro 2016 Qualifier at home to Albania, there was talk of a struggle to make it to the 24-team extravaganza. At that time reaching the showpiece of the event seemed farfetched. Nearly two years on and A Seleccao have made the unthinkable reality. Admittedly the Portuguese have not ripped up any trees in France. But, they have done, perhaps, what works best in tournament football and that is to survive. Last night in the Semi-Final clash against Wales they produced their best outing so far and credit must go to Santos for this renaissance who, it must be remembered, has not had it all his own way.

The 61-year-old was not the most popular choice within his own homeland with his previous stint with Greece having ended in disaster. However, the veteran boss did possess a commendable record in domestic football managing the big three of Sporting CP, Porto and Benfica to major honours. It was certainly not an easy task for Santos to pick up the scraps from the national side’s calamitous World Cup campaign and the stats show he had to dig deep in order to assemble a balanced line-up before Euro 2016. Indeed, Portugal used all of 50 players under him in their qualifying campaign for France. It’s a strategy that seems to have worked.

“Portugal are not just about Cristiano Ronaldo, we are a team.” -Cristiano Ronaldo (Picture Courtesy – UEFA Euro)

The other major criticism of the Portugal boss has been his rather pragmatic yet attritional style of play, with many detractors contending that he is inhibiting the creative talents of youngsters like Joao Mario and Renato Sanches. However, the latter has emerged as one of the stars of the tournament putting paid to those accusations. In fact, Santos has been shrewd to recognize and plug his team’s defensive frailties, making them hard to beat. Realizing, that if they could keep the backdoor shut, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in their ranks they always possessed a lethal threat in front of goal.

The nation expected Ronaldo to deliver and although the Real Madrid superstar has not been at his best, he has made telling contributions. But, this journey has been so much more than just about him.

Of course Portugal have ridden their luck to get this far, as most successful teams often do in any competition. But that notwithstanding, perhaps, Santos’ greatest achievement has been to get his team fighting as one cohesive unit with everyone rising above their egos and working towards a single common goal. They now face either hosts France or world champions Germany in the Final in Saint-Denis on Sunday. But, whatever happens in that game, this campaign has already provided lots of positives to build on.

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Report by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.