Analysis: France eliminate Portugal from Euro 2024; did we witness Cristiano Ronaldo's bittersweet swansong?

Hatred seems to loom around CR7 even during his (supposed) farewell

Diogo Costa, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal's goalkeeper Diogo Costa, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo, from left, react after losing a quarter final match against France at the Euro 2024 | AP

Lisbon: Whether it was Gallic revenge or the cruel hand of fate, Portugal is heading home after a dramatic Euro 2024 quarter-final clash. After a match that remained 0-0 in regulation and extra time, they lost 5-3 on penalties to France. João Félix, who was Roberto Martínez's choice to come on four minutes before the end of extra time, hit the post on his side's third attempt, leading to their exit. And custodian Diogo Costa was unable to save them this time like he did against Slovenia in the Round of 16.  

Portugal won two games, lost one and drew two. In the last three games against Georgia, Slovenia, and France, they failed to score any goals. The lack of efficiency and assertiveness in the final third was Portugal's Achilles heel. After the win against Slovenia a Spanish newspaper used the headline “Diogo Costa saves Ronaldo.” The FC Porto stopper also created history by becoming the only one to save three penalties at the Euros.

Portugal bid farewell to this Euro 2024, which could very well have been captain Cristiano Ronaldo's last major competition with the national team.

After the intense 90 minutes, a palpable nervousness hung in the air. Fans expressed their anxiety during the end of the 90 min. Some even exclaimed that Diogo Costa can’t perform miracles every day! These words seemed prophetic when Nuno Mendes failed to score a decisive goal in the 120th minute. Minutes later, the stadium fell silent as João Félix missed his kick before Theo Hernández converted for France, sealing Portugal’s elimination. 

Portugal’s Elimination 

Portugal dominated the ball possession, while France organized themselves in a medium block with a 4-3-3 defensive formation. The first French defensive line, comprising Mbappé, Griezmann, and Kolo Muani, focused on closing the middle, without pressuring the players at the centre, aiming to limit passes to the Portuguese midfielders.

Portugal responded with a four-man build-up, emphasizing patience and confidence during the initial phases. They circulated the ball to attract opponents, avoiding rushed passes. Given France’s compact central corridor defense, Portugal exploited the flanks. Notably, Nuno Mendes and Rafael Leão operated wide on the left, creating combinations and imbalances. Leão’s 1v1 skills troubled French defenders.

As the game progressed, Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo also supported this left corridor. In response, France adjusted, with Muani dropping deeper to defend that side. Despite controlled play, both teams had limited goal-scoring opportunities.

As the game progressed, it opened up, creating more space and goal-scoring opportunities for both teams. Clear chances emerged, but neither side managed to find the net. Even Ronaldo missed a golden opportunity from Conceicao's cross. France made a tactical change, introducing Dembélé on the right flank (with Mbappé on the left). Their 4-1-4-1 formation aimed to exploit Dembélé’s speed, causing problems for Portugal. In response, Portugal shifted focus to the right wing, bringing on Nélson Semedo and Francisco Conceição for dynamism. The intensity continued into extra time, with chances aplenty. Ultimately, the match was decided by penalties.

A bittersweet 'farewell'

Cristiano Ronaldo, the iconic Portuguese forward, graced the Euro2024 with both anticipation and nostalgia. As the competition’s all-time leading scorer, his every move was scrutinized, dissected, and debated. But this time, the script unfolded differently. Hatred seems to loom around Ronaldo even during his (supposed) farewell, even calling him a “leech” in the team. Some of his countrymen even posted on social media refusing to even consider the last victory over Slovenia. Some media even called him “Static” and even blamed him for not “competing enough” when everyone tried to pull the team up. 

On a sad note, Cristiano Ronaldo leaves this European Championship, his sixth and probably last, and the first Euro without scoring and without being substituted.

As the final whistle blew, signalling the end of Portugal’s Euro Cup journey, one name along with the Portuguese captain stood out—a warrior who had battled fiercely on the field, leaving his heart and soul in every tackle, every header, every desperate clearance - Pepe. He has been the indomitable defender, a pillar of strength for the Portuguese national team for over a decade continuing till last night. His commitment, resilience, and unwavering determination have been constant at the Euros and for the Seleçãoes.

Despite the disappointment, Portugal must regroup. In four years, another Euro Cup awaits. Without Ronaldo and Pepe, but there will still be more.

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