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Portugal and France Stalemate: A Tale of Cautious Tactics

Portugal and France Stalemate: A Tale of Cautious Tactics

Alexander Yaremenko Alexander Yaremenko

Before the start of Portugal vs France, few people expected this match to showcase top-level modern football. Based on the previous matches of these teams in this tournament, it was anticipated to be a game with few chances and low spectacle. My colleague Joseph Andrew accurately predicted a 0-0 draw, which is exactly what happened.

Germany and Spain also played on the same day. In terms of quality and spectacle, it was arguably the best match of Euro 2024, with many exciting moments and three goals scored.

So the question arises: Why was there such a difference in spectacle between Portugal vs France and Germany vs Spain? 

Contrasting Styles: A Tale of Two Quarterfinals

The matches between Germany vs Spain and Portugal vs France took place on the same day – with only a 15-minute difference between them – but the games exhibited a stark contrast in playing style.

Portugal and France played slowly, particularly in the first half. Both teams showed reluctance to take risks by attempting quick progressive passes. Instead, they patiently circulated the ball, hoping their opponents would make a mistake that could be exploited on the counter-attack.

Additionally, neither team pressed or counter-pressed aggressively. When losing possession, they tended to drop back into a defensive formation in their own half, often unorganized.

The positional attacks of both teams lacked structure and fluidity. Players struggled to find space between the lines, making moving the ball into the final third challenging.

Many of the attacks consisted of short and medium passes, lacking variety and creativity. Long passes, diagonal balls, and incisive through balls into the penalty area were rare. Players often opted for simple, safe passes to nearby teammates.

Overall, Portugal and France focused on keeping it tight at the back and waiting for a mistake from the opposition. Their approach was reactive, relying on their opponents to blink first.

In contrast, Germany and Spain played at a higher tempo, proactively moving the ball into the final third and pressing aggressively when out of possession. Their attacks were structured and diverse, aiming to create opportunities through combinations, even in tight spaces.

The difference in playing game models reflected the reliance on timely and creative attacking football by Luis De La Fuente and Julian Nagelsmann. Although their teams displayed different strengths and styles, both coaches emphasized creativity throughout the game. 

Despite not scoring a plethora of goals or creating countless chances, Germany and Spain’s proactive tactical setups were a breath of fresh air.

De La Fuente and Nagelsmann showcased the cohesion and tactical acumen often found in top European clubs, proving that national teams led by great coaches can perform at the highest level.

The Main Problems of Martínez and Deschamps

The Portuguese Football Federation has made puzzling choices in selecting national team coaches. Following the somewhat fortunate success at Euro 2016 (where Portugal won only one match in regulation time), Fernando Santos, known for his ultra-defensive coaching style, remained in charge for an extended period.

Portugal had disappointing performances at Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022 during his tenure despite boasting one of the strongest squads at both tournaments.

After Santos, the management appointed Roberto Martínez as coach. Martínez had previously struggled with the “golden generation” of the Belgian national team and had managed clubs like Wigan and Everton

His coaching style was not focused on creating a strong positional attack but rather on occasional original tactical innovations that had brought sporadic success.

Martínez took over as coach of the Portuguese national team in January 2023. Since then, he hasn’t significantly altered the team’s attacking approach compared to Santos’ reign. Under Martínez, Portugal continues to play at a pedestrian pace and relies heavily on individual brilliance for their attacking thrust.

On the other hand, Didier Deschamps is a more decorated coach. Before taking charge of the French national team, he led Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final and won the French championship with Marseille in 2010. 

However, it’s worth noting that this was 14 years ago, and the landscape of club football has evolved significantly since then.

Under Deschamps’ leadership, France achieved great success with a highly talented squad, reaching the finals of Euro 2016 and the 2022 World Cup, and winning the 2018 World Cup. Despite consistently having an exceptional pool of players, the team faced challenges in defensive and offensive organization in each of these tournaments.

Deschamps has frequently been criticized for struggling to find the ideal tactical formation for the team and for relying too heavily on individual player talent rather than fostering cohesive team play.

At Euro 2024, the French coach has been experimenting with the team’s formation and playing style in every match, continually seeking to strike the right balance. Nonetheless, in the earlier stages of the tournament, France managed to construct effective positional attacks and dictate play against their opponents. The team also displayed improved defensive organization. 

The main issue for France has been their poor conversion of scoring opportunities. Overall, France’s showcased a more coherent and refined attacking style than Portugal in Euro 2024.

But in the game against Portugal, the French team initially played defensively, relying on counter-attacks and waiting for their opponents to make mistakes. However, their defensive positioning was too narrow, which led to obvious gaps in defense. 

It was only in the second half, after the Portuguese team exploited these weaknesses and created scoring opportunities, that France started to play more actively.

It’s evident that the French coach, Didier Deschamps, is still trying to find the right tactical balance for his team. Currently, he seems to prioritize defensive play over organized attacks. He is banking on the individual skill of his players to carry the team to success, hoping that their talent will compensate for any tactical shortcomings.

Deschamps’ strategy may rely heavily on the strength of France’s squad, to reach the final and silence any criticisms of his decisions.

Flanks Key in Portugal vs France: Opportunities and Defensive Concerns

Reflecting on the Portugal vs France match, it’s clear that the most dangerous moments emerged from flank attacks.

France defended with a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, with Randal Kolo Muani and Kylian Mbappé not heavily involved in defense. This allowed Portugal to exploit the space on the flanks, particularly through Nuno Mendes and Rafael Leão on the left and João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva on the right.

Their dribbling and sharp passes created the most dangerous opportunities for Portugal. However, I believe that Portugal could have utilized diagonal passes more effectively to take advantage of the flanks.

If France employs a similar defensive strategy against Spain, they might encounter difficulties in defending near their own goal.

On the other hand, Portugal also struggled defensively on the flanks, especially on the left. Rafael Leão’s reluctance to contribute in defense allowed Jules Koundé to exploit the space and create opportunities for France, particularly when linking up with Ousmane Dembélé on the left. 

Additionally, Bruno Fernandes didn’t consistently track back in defense, and there were overall issues with the organization of Portugal’s midfield. If France had played with a more attacking style, they might have capitalized on Portugal’s positional errors and scored in regulation time.

Disappointing Display from Portugal & France: Coaching Questions Emerge

Portugal and France displayed a game of noticeably lower quality compared to Spain and Germany. In my opinion, the main reason for this is that Roberto Martínez and Didier Deschamps are not top-level coaches. Their squads have underperformed both in attack and defense throughout the tournament.

Deschamps still has a chance to elevate the team’s performance in the upcoming game, but for Martínez, this tournament has concluded on a disappointing note. His approach failed to bring out the best in a talented Portuguese squad.

I am hopeful to see the current golden generation of Portuguese players at the next World Cup in 2026 under the guidance of a new, better, and more proactive coach.

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