The Portuguese forgive Fernando Santos a lot. At 66 years old, this engineer by training remains “the father of victory” with almost inexhaustible credit since the success at the Euro in 2016. The country has waited too long for this first title to hold out against its coach, to blame him for elimination in the face at Urugay from the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup, a sometimes sluggish game, his inability to exploit an unprecedented potential or his tactical choices.
But we must believe that a lucky star always accompanies this fervent Catholic before challenging Germany, Saturday, June 19 in Munich and – perhaps – ensuring qualification for the knockout stages. Facing Hungary (3-0), Santos disconcerted his world by sending Rafa Silva on the pitch for his first and late change (70e).
Sending an attacker known for his speed to the front against a defensive opponent is a bit like going hunting with his cat, to use a formula of his famous colleague and compatriot, José Mourinho. But the light has indeed come from the Benfica player, involved in the three goals of his team at the end of the match.
“To play well is not the same thing as the beautiful game”
Move around, there is nothing to see or discuss. “In my opinion, we were playing well, we had situations to score”Santos whispered after meeting his eternal tired Droopy look. Yes, Portugal had a few opportunities, but the overall content does not really lend credence to the first part of their coach’s sentence.
In a country known to train and irrigate Europe – through the university – of coaches focused on innovative concepts and theory, Santos (whose contract runs until Euro 2024) belongs a bit to the old school . One that does not bother with an assertive playing philosophy and first adapts to the players available. “Playing well is not the same as playing a good game”, he often repeats.
The frustration may be there. If Portugal touched the sky in 2016 with its forces of the moment (tactical discipline, iron defense and the Ronaldo-Nani duo to create danger), it has the human resources to develop a more attractive game with Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota and Bruno Fernandes. Not to mention Joao Felix, whose genius is just waiting to wake up after months of wearing out his tracksuit on the bench at Atlético Madrid.
But, in football, the potential sometimes turns out to be a false friend. “Compared to 2016, I see a younger team, with enormous potential, but only the competition will tell us if we are better or worse. “, warned Cristiano Ronaldo at a press conference.
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