Dull but effective will win the Euros race: Richard Buxton
France and Portugal's successes highlight merits of a more cautious approach
Slow and unspectacular could well prove to be the winning formula at Euro 2020.
Playing the long game may be an affront to all thrill seekers tuning in to this summer's relentless festival of football, but Portugal and France are clear proof of its merits.
A reunion of the Euro 2016 finalists in their remaining Group F fixture on Thursday morning (Singapore time) will be a contest determined by which team blink first.
Both the Selecao and Les Bleus suffer from an embarrassment of riches, boasting squads laden with quality in depth that leave their international peers feeling envious.
Tellingly, however, neither Portugal's Fernando Santos nor France's Didier Deschamps is willing to allow their respective sides to step out of first gear at this formative stage.
Between them, they have swallowed up every major honour that the global game has to offer, all by choosing to hold off on unleashing their great and good.
Deschamps has made grinding out results an art form, as France bid to add a continental crown to their status as world champions by simply refusing to go for broke.
The underwhelming nature of their amble to the summit of world football three years ago is matched this summer by earning four points against Germany and Hungary.
Portugal's defence of their European title, similarly, has been less than inspirational, taking just three points from their opening two games in the so-called "Group of Death".
History suggests their self-restraint might again pay off after it helped upstage France in their own backyard five years ago.
En route to their 2016 triumph in Paris, Portugal won only one match inside 90 minutes, their semi-final triumph over Wales.
They drew all three group games - against Iceland, Austria and Hungary - and eked out extra-time victories over Croatia (round of 16) and France (final) and needed a penalty shoot-out to see off Poland (quarter-finals).
Their route to these Finals was hardly plain sailing either, scraping into an automatic qualification spot behind Ukraine by virtue of a 2-0 win against Luxembourg.
Even so, Portugal are still likely to progress to the knockout stages of Euro 2020, thanks to Uefa's algorithmic shake-up after expanding the competition's format to 24 countries in 2016.
The four best third-placed teams join the group winners and runners-up in the round of 16, with head-to-head records and goal difference coming into play.
Sneaking a back-door entry into the last 16 affords Santos the luxury of ensuring his side continues to orbit their evergreen captain Cristiano Ronaldo, despite an abundance of younger and more progressive options as talisman, most notably Bruno Fernandes.
Yet, there is a method in the madness of persisting with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.
Ronaldo can still light up the grandest stage, but will need to conserve his energies after the most punishing season of his career as Euro 2020 reaches a crucial juncture.
The upheaval that football suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic meant that elite-level players endured minimal let-up at club level over the previous nine months.
Games came as thick and fast as the challenges many often faced, with the relentless demands of an average campaign condensed into a far smaller competitive window.
Little wonder, then, that Santos and Deschamps remain committed to a perceived greater good rather than pleasing aesthetics before the Finals reach their business end.
Neutrals may not like it, but the pair threaten to have the biggest laugh of all.
- Germany v Hungary (Munich)
- Portugal v France (Budapest)