Sevile: Fernando Santos framed Portugal’s Euro 2020 exit as a tale of bad luck and missed chances but the failure to extract the best from a wealth of attacking talents was ultimately what cost his team dear.
Belgium were left hanging on to their 1-0 win in Seville, decided by Thorgan Hazard’s swerving strike at the end of the first half which earns them a quarter-final meeting with Italy in Munich on Friday.
They might have scored a second with more precision on the break and instead a slender advantage was always going to give way to a Portugal onslaught at the end of breathless tie in the last 16.
“I think it’s an unfair result but they scored and we didn’t,” said Santos. “Their goal was a shot from nothing, from outside the box. We can’t control everything.“
But while the statistics would show Portugal had 24 shots, six of them on target, the flow of the match had Belgium as the more ambitious team until they had to defend and their opponents grew increasingly desperate.
Portugal started with just over 200 million euros ($238 million) worth of talent in their front three, with Cristiano Ronaldo flanked by Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City.
When the game was getting away from them, another trio worth another 200 million euros entered, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Andre Silva coming on for Jota, Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho.
France’s Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann might be the sharpest starting trident but even the world champions cannot match Portugal’s depth of attacking options.
And yet there was a lack of fluidity about them at La Cartuja as players that sparkle for their clubs looked weighed down by a need to put defensive shape and organisation first.
There are mitigating circumstances, with Fernandes clearly fatigued in this tournament as his appearances for the season ticked past 70 in the group stage.