"It would be nice to play pretty but that's not always how you win tournaments," said Fernando Santos after Portugal's progress; too right, says team reporter Joe Walker.
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"Sometimes you have to be pragmatic," is how coach Fernando Santos chose to describe Portugal's round of 16 victory over Croatia on Saturday. Their success was not pretty, but it was a dogged Portugal performance that was mightily effective, setting up a Marseille quarter-final with Poland on Thursday. The 61-year-old fundamentally got it right on a night of fine margins.
He set Portugal out to frustrate
Having seen Croatia condemn champions Spain to their first defeat at a EURO since 2004, Santos was well aware of what Ante Čačić's side could do. While deploying a 4-4-2 diamond was nothing new for Portugal, Santos's decision to introduce fresh legs in Lens was key to nullifying Croatia's main threats.
Adrien Silva's boundless energy in the middle of the park afforded the mercurial Luka Modrić little time to get his foot on the ball. Adrien's partner William Carvalho produced a fantastic man-marking job on the dangerous Ivan Rakitić, just as he had on David Alaba in the group stage.
With their two playmakers occupied, Croatia struggled to create clear-cut opportunities from open play, while the dangerous Ivan Perišić was kept in check by Cédric Soares and Raphaël Guerreiro, and similarly Mario Mandžukić laboured to get involved.
He shuffled his pack wisely
Eyebrows were raised when a line-up containing three players making their UEFA EURO 2016 debuts was announced. However, each change in the XI was more than vindicated.
José Fonte, partnering Pepe in central defence, was masterly, while Southampton team-mate Cédric – also on his tournament bow – helped form a back line that looked much more secure than the porous one that showed up against Hungary on matchday three. Santos must now choose whether to bring back the rested Ricardo Carvalho and Vieirinha in their places.
Likewise Adrien excelled. While not boasting João Moutinho's vision, his stamina was what was required in a disciplined role at the heart of midfield. Definitely he was the right man for the task.
He used his bench well
With his plan to stifle Croatia working in the first half, Santos then needed to add attacking impetus to a hitherto blunt team. He did this emphatically with the introductions of first Renato Sanches and, later, Ricardo Quaresma.
Until now, the Portugal boss has resisted the temptation to throw Renato Sanches in from the off, though his displays from the bench may well change that. The 18-year-old's pace, power and aggression are wonderful facets of a rapidly improving talent. It was the teenager who spearheaded the counterattack that led to fellow substitute Quaresma's goal.
If it had been a bold call to bring winger Quaresma on with three minutes of normal time left, the gamble paid off as he started and finished the move that sealed Portugal's place in the last eight.