Portugal’s “Anti-Football” Tactics

After Portugal’s 1-0 win over France in the Euro 2016 Final, pundit Steve McManaman said it best. “I don’t want my champions to play like that,” he said, it was “anti-football.” Football is often called “the beautiful game,” but sometimes football can just be crap. Unless you are from Portugal, you probably did not enjoy that match. The Portuguese were allergic to offense, more content with letting the 120 minutes run out than actually attempt to move the ball up the field with any intent to win. It’s a tactic as old as the sport, but also the tactic that bad teams utilize. If you don’t think you can win, try not to lose.

It’s not like that was anything new for Portugal. Heck, it is what we all should have expected from them.French manager Didier Deschamps should have expected Portugal to play that lethargic, weak, small-minded game, despite them actually having the talent to play actual football, with passing and offense and stuff. Yes, France was the superior team, with the superior talent, but in this sport where the slimmest of margins determines matches, a team can play not to win and actually get rewarded on the biggest stage. It’s demoralizing for people who want to watch good football.

This can actually be blamed on the Euros expanding to 24 teams for the first time, as Portugal had no right to even make it out of their group, where they failed to win any game and finished behind Hungary and Iceland. However, by finishing third, they caught a huge break as the bracket put them on the side with 8 teams that have never won a major tournament. They didn’t have to play any international powerhouse until the final, as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and England were all on the other side of the bracket. Instead, Portugal got to play Croatia, Poland, and Wales. Talk about a cake walk.

Funny though, Iceland won their final game in stoppage time to move ahead of Portugal in the group. For Iceland to have made the final, they would have needed to go through England, France, and then Germany just to make the final. Yeah, that was never going to happen. Portugal’s stay in this tournament would have ended weeks ago if that was the route they needed.

In truth, this is the game plan Fernando Santos has implemented from the start as Portugal’s game plan of attempting not to win was evident from the qualifying rounds for the Euros, where they netted a mere 11 goals in 8 games in a super easy group, which they won. They also were in the only group comprised of 5 teams, so they played 2 less games than the rest of the teams, which also means 2 less games where weird things can happen, like Iceland defeating Netherlands twice. They had the lowest amount of goals and the second worst goal differential of any group winner. True, they played less games, but 2 more games wasn’t going to make a difference. Just take a look for yourself if you’re interested.

Minimalism at its finest. Defense is part of the game, sure, but usually a quick counterattack strategy is used in conjunction. It is not like Italy played much offense, yet they were one of the most impressive teams of the tournament. They made their time with the ball matter and scored some of the best team goals of the tournament. Portugal scorned the ball and were okay just to pass around to kill time and occasionally throw a ball into the box for Cristiano Ronaldo to do something with. Interesting to note that Ronaldo left the final 25 minutes in with an injury, I guess proving in some roundabout way that it wasn’t just Ronaldo and some scrubs. And in fairness to Pepe, one of the least liked dude in the sport, he played out of his mind great.

Sure, Portugal won and they don’t care how people view them, but they played the sort of game football fans around the globe dread. People in America call the sport boring and watching the game yesterday, you can’t blame them. “There isn’t enough scoring,” they say, and then they tune in to the Euro 2016 Final and expect players like French players Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann to do Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann things. Yet, what they find is Portugal stuffing all their players behind the ball, without much of an outlet to go forward, and there is barely offense anywhere. It’s everyone’s nightmare. We all suffered. We are all losers after watching that for 2 hours. We are all disappointed:

And because we all need a reason to smile, here is a brilliant 5 and a half hour video of Griezmann’s goal celebration on loop, because I need to feel better about life:

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