The mastermind

Santos gets wish with ugly win again

Portugal's coach Fernando Santos is tossed into the air by his players as they celebrate after beating France in the Euro final.
Portugal's coach Fernando Santos is tossed into the air by his players as they celebrate after beating France in the Euro final. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

PARIS • Portugal coach Fernando Santos said he did not mind how his team won, and sure enough, they claimed the European title with another "ugly" victory on Sunday.

He hugged his injured star Cristiano Ronaldo when the Stade de France spectacle finally ended after 120 minutes, yet it was not goals from Ronaldo that decided the contest, but Santos' wily tactics.

Portugal were under pressure most of the game, but again stole it from France at the crucial moment, as Eder's extra-time goal completely stunned the tournament hosts.

"Cristiano could score at any moment and sort everything out on his own," Santos said after the win. "But I always said we are a team, we win as a team."

The 61-year-old insists he believed from the first day of Euro 2016 that Portugal would be in the final, even though a 2-0 semi-final win over Wales was their only one in regulation time in seven games.

He had called Portugal the "ugly duckling" side of the tournament.

"Would I like us to be pretty? Yes," said Santos after the 1-0 round-of-16 win over Croatia, also in extra-time.

"But in between being pretty and being at home, or ugly and being here, I prefer to be ugly."

After Denmark beat Germany in Gothenburg in 1992 and Greece beat Portugal in Lisbon in 2004, the Portuguese have now pulled off a huge European Championship shock under Santos' guidance.

Ronaldo's threat had grown with each match, and his enforced injury departure from the final was a new blow. Nevertheless, as with earlier games, Portugal weathered the storm and came out stronger.

Santos, who built his career with top clubs in Portugal - Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto - and in Greece as well as the Greek national side, called Sunday's final "the high point of my career".

Santos has dramatically changed Portugal's luck and outlook since taking over as coach in September 2014, after they had lost their first Euro 2016 qualifying game 0-1 to Albania.

He took over in controversial circumstances, facing an eight-match touch-line ban after being sent off when managing Greece at the 2014 World Cup for verbally abusing Australian referee Ben Williams. Only appeals to Fifa and the Court of Arbitration for Sport saw the ban cut to two matches.

Santos duly found the right way to build a team around Ronaldo, taking the burden off the superstar's shoulders in a way that eminent predecessors like Paulo Bento, Carlos Queiroz and Luis Felipe Scolari could not.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Santos gets wish with ugly win again'. Print Edition | Subscribe