Portugal coach admits 9 changes led to Dutch debacle

GENEVA • Portugal coach Fernando Santos took full responsibility after the European champions suffered a first-half collapse and had Joao Cancelo sent off in a 3-0 World Cup warm-up defeat by the Netherlands on Monday.

Santos made nine changes from the team who beat Egypt 2-1 in a friendly last Friday and said he was to blame for the team selection.

"It could have gone better but the responsibility for the defeat is mine. I was the one who picked the team, watched our opponents and put together our strategy," he said.

Memphis Depay, Ryan Babel and skipper Virgil van Dijk all scored before the interval by taking advantage of uncharacteristically slack defending by Portugal, as the Dutchmen secured a first win for new coach Ronald Koeman.

Cristiano Ronaldo began the match a hat-trick away from matching the Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas' record of 84 goals as Europe's all-time leading international marksmen. But the Portugal captain never looked like scoring one, let alone three.

"We don't like to draw matches, let alone lose them," added Santos.

"I will draw my conclusions. We need to find something positive in this defeat."

But he was not too discouraged, pointing out that Portugal suffered a loss to Bulgaria in a friendly before going on to win Euro 2016.

Any hopes of a comeback were ended when Cancelo was shown a second yellow card and sent off for a foul on Tonny Vilhena just after the hour.

Portuguese fans will be expecting a better show when their team take on Spain in their World Cup opener on June 15 in Sochi, before further Group B games against Morocco and Iran.

The Netherlands, the three-time World Cup runners-up who have failed to qualify for the Finals in Russia, lost 0-1 at home to England on Koeman's debut last Friday.

"We decided to play with a system totally different from the one that the team has been using for a number of years," said former Everton manager Koeman, who deployed an unusual 5-3-2 formation.

"The difference between tonight and last Friday is that we were more comfortable and scored quickly. It felt good with the new system and results like this make things easier.

He gave Justin Kluivert, the 18-year-old son of their former forward Patrick, his international debut in the 78th minute.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2018, with the headline 'Portugal coach admits 9 changes led to Dutch debacle'. Print Edition | Subscribe