Santos does a Leicester with Portugal
Like Leicester's Ranieri, Santos sacrifices stubborn tactical ideals to achieve results
- After extra time
There must be something in the water at the Hellenic Football Federation.
Twice in the space of three months, the Greek national side's inexplicable mismanagement has provided the protagonists to two of the greatest storylines in this most remarkable of footballing calendar years.
Doing away with two overseas coaches has transformed them into the unexpected masters of their domains.
And the parallels between Fernando Santos and Claudio Ranieri do not end there.
Neither man has compromised their footballing or personal values to appease others; a fact epitomised by Leicester City and Portugal's respective places at the pantheon of domestic and international football.
The Foxes' unprecedented English Premier League title triumph was testament to both footballing grit and brimming self-belief. So, too, was Portugal's historic Euro 2016 tilt.
Yet it is Santos, the man with a degree in electrical engineering, who has masterminded the greater triumph in this most unlikely of calendar years.
Portugal's route to the final was considered an affront to international football as well as their own flawless qualification record since Santos had succeeded Paulo Bento at the beginning of their campaign in September 2014.
Zero group games won, one knock-out negotiated within 90 minutes and maintaining a winning position for a combined 75 minutes from a potential 720 - A Seleccao had negotiated their success from the back-door entry.
LEAVING IT LATE
Scraping through the group stages by the sheer virtue of Uefa's 24-team expansion of the Finals, they often left it late as they advanced in France.
Extra time and penalty shoot-outs became the default standpoint from which Portugal advanced to yesterday morning's (Singapore time) showpiece at the Stade de France - but Santos remained unwavering in his outlook.
Winning ugly became his preferred weapon of choice - and with good reason.
A solitary goal conceded in seven hours of football vindicated a bristling belief in his team's abilities. It became a recurring theme throughout the Finals.
Soundbites contained a more razor-sharp edge than Ranieri's declarations of "dilly ding, dilly dong" and even bordered on historic territory with a footballing twist on Marie Antoinette's famous "let them eat cake" edict before the final itself.
Heavily reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal - like Leicester - did not assume their mark of champions until the pressure had truly cranked.
That moment came in the 24th minute in Saint-Denis, when the Real Madrid talisman was incapable of continuing after one too many attempts at bravado from Dimitri Payet's challenge.
Rather than hinder, the loss of Ronaldo galvanised Santos and his players far more than Portugal's captain had inspired at any other stage in the tournament, when the spotlight was practically sun-tanning him.
So much for being little more than a one-man team.
But that eventual success is attributable to more than a mere backs-to-the-wall approach.
Santos' preferred 4-4-2 approach was compromised to accommodate the inclusion of Eder in a three-pronged attack.
Sacrificing Renato Sanches for the former Swansea City misfit was a tactical gamble that carried a serious risk of backfiring.
Against a backdrop of sustained pressure from France, however, it redressed the balance.
The freedom it afforded Luis Nani and Ricardo Quaresma as a result saw Les Bleus overpowered and denied what should have been a fitting end for the hosts.
Arguably more illustrious coaches, like Joachim Loew and Vicente del Bosque, left Euro 2016 after being far too wedded to their philosophies and the appeasement of others.
Santos, meanwhile, embraced the nuances and rigours of tournament football and the need to sacrifice stubborn tactical ideals for actions of pure necessity.
Simple as doves yet wise as serpents was how he described Portugal's path to their Euro 2016 coronation.
In truth, they and Santos were more like Leicester - wily as foxes.
Fernando Santos was the most important person at Euro 2016.
— Cristiano Ronaldo on his coach
Santos hails Portugal's team spirit
CUP KINGS: Fernando Santos (left) and Cristiano Ronaldo (right) arrive at Lisbon airport yesterday as heroes. PHOTO: AFP
Portugal celebrated their first major title after shocking Euro 2016 hosts France in the final yesterday morning (Singapore time), leaving coach Fernando Santos proud of the strength and unity shown in triumphing without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
This has been a cagey tournament punctuated by moments of magic and it came to a fitting end at the Stade de France, where the main talking point of the opening 90 minutes was the injury that brought the Portuguese captain's night to a premature end.
Portugal proved they are more than a one-man team, though, securing a 1-0 win over favourites France through Eder's stunning extra-time strike.
Wild celebrations met the final whistle as the Portuguese clinched a first major tournament, 12 years on from being overturned by unfancied Greece at the end of the European Championship they hosted.
"Cristiano could score at any moment and sort everything out on his own," Santos, 61, said after the win.
"But I've always said we're a team. We win as a team. I never hide my thoughts - I always tell my players what's on my mind.
"I've always told them we've got great talent, but we need to fight more than our opponents, run more than them and be more concentrated than them.
"We have an amazing group. They've always believed what I told them: that we could win this."
It is a feat made all the more impressive given they kicked on without their biggest star Ronaldo, injured in a challenge by Dimitri Payet during the early exchanges.
Portugal's captain and talisman may not have been on the field, but still acted as an inspiration to his teammates on a historic night.
"Our skipper put in an immense effort," Santos said.
"He has amazing team spirit.
"Twice he tried to get back on the pitch but him being there in the dressing room and on the bench was very important for us.
"He believed - just like myself - that tonight was our night."
Central defender Pepe, often cast as the pantomime villain after several unsavoury incidents in his career, was also outstanding throughout the tournament.
"Pepe is a player with enormous passion, he gives everything during a game," Santos said.
"What is said about him is not really correct. He has picked up a reputation that he will struggle to get rid off but, happily, he is a champion of Europe."
Few would have believed that substitute Eder would be the match-winner, though, with his strike leaving Swansea fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief given his underwhelming time in Wales.
"When he came on, he told me he would score," Santos added.
"The ugly duckling went and scored. Now he's a beautiful swan." - Wire Services.