Express | Faith, football and what Fernando Santos has won (Portugal analysis

“Here we go again”, we thought in the 83rd minute. Burak Yilmaz had the chance to tie the game at Dragon. If the ball went in, it would be a totally undeserved punishment for Portugal. The Lille striker put her on the bench and we had the umpteenth confirmation that the gods have never turned their backs on Fernando Santos and the national team. North Macedonia’s goal was yet to come, which no one complained about – not to underestimate a side that have recently won in Italy and Germany.

Even before the initial whistle, the game was already talking about coaching choices. Fernando Santos surprised with the name of Diogo Costa, certainly to mark the beginning of the succession of Rui Patrício in goal. The number one potential of the FC Porto youngster has never been in question but absences from the defense could lead the coach to postpone this process. That wasn’t the case and, despite having had little work to do, the goalkeeper showed confidence and offered the usual added value in the distribution.

Further on, doubt hovered over the positioning of the midfielders. Note the bet on Otávio, one of the protagonists who provoked the most antagonistic reactions from Portuguese fans. He won’t be the most talented, not even the one who impresses with his aesthetics, but there’s no doubt that he’s also an excellent team player. He fulfills all the functions assigned to him. He appeared as a right midfielder, releasing the runner for Diogo Dalot and always looking to be an extra element in the inner zone. He was decisive with a goal, he assisted, assisted with pressure and recovered balls. In terms of tactical planning and individual picks (among those available, since Inácio was on the bench), there’s nothing that points to Fernando Santos. Everything suggests that he won two serious options.

But the superiority of Portugal is also explained by the approach of Stefan Kuntz. When everything pointed to a three midfield system, he decided to test 5-4-1/5-2-3 and the team showed a lot of discomfort. Çalhanoglu and Kökcü were inferior in the central area against Moutinho, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes, who were joined by Otávio. This idea from the Turkish coach suggests a certain fear of the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo in the penalty area, protecting himself with yet another central defender. This “invisible” dimension made life easier for the national group.

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