Connect in the back of the net

The article below is the eighth installment of a column related to everything Euro 2016 titled “Euro Vision” by respected South African sports journalist and ANN7 Prime Sports Anchor, Peter Stemmet.

All hail the champions!  Portugal, at long last, are the champions of Europe.  

They might have been fancied in and around the Eusebio era in the 1960s.  Some might have tipped them as a dark horse in the 1980s.  

Many feel Portugal should have fulfilled their potential in the late 1990s/early 2000s.  

And had destiny not decreed that the 2004 European Championships, hosted on home soil, was theirs by right?

A perceived dip in form after the 2006 World Cup semi-final under the guidance of Luiz Felipe Scolari had many saying, including this scribe, that they were returning to their old ways – promising everything, delivering nothing.  

Perhaps that analogy is more appropriate in describing the Dutch now.

Yes it is true that the Portuguese golden generation containing the likes of Luis Figo, Pauleta, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto, Fernando Couto and Vitor Baia never won anything.  

It can be argued that the current crop lack the star power and flair that the aforementioned group had in abundance.  

However Rui Patricio, Pepe, Joao Mario, Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo have a trophy in the cabinet; something Lisbon has not had before.

Pundits criticised Fernando Santos’ side at Euro 2016 for being unimaginative, pragmatic and lacking the X-factor.  Santos’ soldiers were accused of not being the best team at the tournament.  

But facts are facts and no one could beat the Portuguese at this tournament.  Does that not qualify as the best team at the event?

Sure they might not have the flair of France or Germany.  They might not be an attractive attacking unit but they make up for that with their solid defensive set up, counter-attacking ability and sheer determination.  

The spine of Rui Patricio, Pepe and William Carvalho was the best at the tournament in my view.  

Let me say that I am from the Johan Cruyff School of Football. Nothing beats the total football or tiki-taka styles in my book.  

It is most pleasing on the eye and worth every cent spent on a match ticket for me.  

However if you do not have the players to play that game, then you have to come up with another strategy and Santos was superb in taking perhaps not the greatest generation of Portuguese players, and moulding them into a solid team that ultimately lifted the trophy – without Ronaldo on the field for 100 of the 120 minutes in the final no less.

It seems a group of hard workers with a few stars here and there is the magic formula Portugal had been searching for all along.  

Eleven stars with no work ethic clearly failed – think World Cup 2002 in Korea and Japan.  

For the purists, who are unhappy, do not forget that this is not akin to Greece’s miracle of 2004 that was achieved by bombing long balls to Angelo Charisteas in the hope of netting a goal and then crazily defending that 1-0 lead.  

There is far more substance to the Portuguese, who might not be a Spain (2008, 2012) or France (2000) or West Germany (1980) but they are certainly not a Greece or a Denmark (1992).  

They are worthy winners and even if many feel they might not have been the flashiest side at Euro 2016, no one could beat them in the last month and they have enough star quality in their ranks to be able to go on and challenge at next year’s Confederations Cup and the World Cup a year later in Russia.

Once more, well done to Portugal, even if they did spoil France’s festival.


Written by Peter Stemmet

Follow Peter on Twitter @super_pete

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