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Portugal 1-0 France: Number nines and failure in the inside left channel

Hugo Lloris and Les Bleus suffered disappointment in the Euro 2016 Final as it finished Portugal 1-0 France in Paris.

Finals are often cagey affairs. Neither side wants to lose nor express themselves too much going forward, so both teams play a stifled match.

Portugal set out there stall to be defensively stubborn, especially after the loss of their most important player. France setup reactively, even more so following Ronaldo’s departure, when winning was presumed to be a matter of when rather than if.

Overall, the French misfired in the inside left channel. Portugal found their focus by employing a proper number nine. It led to the only goal of the game, as it finished Portugal 1-0 France in Paris.

Portugal compact and high line

Portugal’s defensive resilience has been a feature of this tournament. “Portugal always has a defensive game plan” said manager Fernando Santos after the victory over Wales and they did so again here.

They continued with their usual 4-1-3-2 defensive structure, until Ronaldo went off when they reverted to 4-1-4-1 without the ball.

The advanced trio behind the front two always try to keep the opposition out of the middle of the pitch. An interesting twist for the final was just how high the back line played. Pepe and Jose Fonte squeezed up to take away space and time from France’s midfielders.

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4-1-3-2 def shape + high line keeps France out of the middle.

This kept the likes of Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann, who like to buzz between the lines, quiet for large parts of the match. It also hindered Oliver Giroud who has no pace to run in-behind and has often come towards the ball in this tournament.

The tactic took away the little pockets of space that we can see Payet and Griezmann trying to work in here. Renato Sanches and Adrien Silva close in with William Carvalho to take this away. The back four are squeezed up right behind to close in should anyone puncture the midfield line.

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Portugal take away Griezmann and Payet’s space.

It really helped Portugal be successful in nullifying France. They were compact from back to front and there was little time in the midfield zone and no space either.

France’s shape struggles

France were also looking to play a reactive strategy. They weren’t as standoffish as Portugal, but they didn’t force the pace, which they are probably regretting.

Without the ball they would drop in to a 4-4-2 defensive structure. Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud would try to press and close down to stop William Carvalho playing out. The rest of the team would drop and engage at the middle third.

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Giroud and Griezmann press, not backed up by the rest of the team.

This wasn’t a big problem. However, pressing high may have been the solution to hem Portugal in with the number of turnovers they were committing when trying to play out.

Where the issues for France came was in on the ball. With Portugal retreating to the halfway line, they were unable to get Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi in possession on the other side of Portugal’s first line – as can be seen in the first image of this article.

When the pair has been successful it is because the centre backs can get them the ball through the first line of the opposition’s defence. Pogba and Matuidi can then pass or run at the midfield.

As Portugal were so deep here, both Pogba and Matuidi were often collecting the ball with all eleven Portuguese players between them and the goal. It meant that France struggled to progress the ball and either had to go backwards, square or turned it over.

Sissoko surges

Moussa Sissoko was the biggest threat in the first half and it was his surges forward with the ball that caused problems.

In order to break down tight, compact defensive structures, teams need players that can go past opponents. This loosens the opposition as help defenders are drawn in, freeing up teammates that were previously marked.

Moussa Sissoko was the bright spark in the French team. His surges forward unhinged Portugal’s defence. He got two shots away and forced a corner as Portugal couldn’t handle his combination of pace and power.

France in the inside left channel

Sissoko forced a corner with a surging run down the right, but unleashed two shots as he burst through the inside left channel. Portugal were weak here as right back Cedric Soares was kept on the outside by the play of Dimitri Payet and Patrice Evra. Pepe inside him was concerned with Oliver Giroud. This opened up the inside left channel and it was key in France creating chances.

Sissoko, who had drifted over from the right, had two shots through this channel. One that stung Rui Patricio’s gloves, the other flew just over. Payet’s chip pass saw Antoine Griezmann’s header brilliantly tipped around the post.

These were rare half chances, but the introduction of Kingsley Coman really opened up this channel as an avenue to score from.

Coman’s dribbling past opponents, something Sissoko’s surges had highlighted were key to breaking the Portugal defence, helped him get in to this channel to create for others.

Within seconds of coming on he sent Griezmann through for a shot that was well saved. He then sprung Oliver Giroud, as he dribbled in to the inside left channel once more.

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Coman finds Giroud through the inside left channel.

He then carved out the chance of the night. A short, chipped cross from this channel that was nodded over by Griezmann with the goal at his mercy.

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Griezmann misses from Coman’s chip pass.

Coman created four chances from the inside left channel after his introduction, but France were just not able to put any away.

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Kingsley Coman creates from inside left channel.

As if to top the frustration off, on 91 minutes, Andre-Pierre Gignac would see his shot rebound off the foot of the post. The striker had got himself in to the inside left channel to receive Patrice Evra’s low cross from that side. It would be the closest France would come to getting their hands on the trophy.

Number nines

Didier Deschamps changed his and Fernando Santos introduced one. The number nines would be pivotal in deciding this game.

The French manager saw his hit the post. Gignac was running the channels better than Giroud and getting in to more threatening positions. However, his hold up play wasn’t as good and France suffered. They couldn’t hold the ball up and work off the striker after Giroud went off. He never looked like he would score, but Giroud gave France a focus point and a hub to work off, something that is often underestimated.

On the other side and Fernando Santos introduced a number nine in Eder. Nani was grafting away as the centre forward after Ronaldo went off, but wasn’t a threat on crosses or to hold the ball up.

Eder immediately provided this. His header from a Ricardo Quaresma ball in saw Hugo Lloris scrambling to claw it away off the line in extra time.

Eder’s hold up play was key. It earned fouls and free kicks to relieve the pressure. It also sent Nani out to the wing, where he torched old Man Utd colleague Patrice Evra on several occasions.

Eder gave them a focal point. It also gave Laurent Koscielny and Samuel Umtiti someone to mark. Eder earned the free kick that Raphael Guerreiro beamed off the bar, albeit it was his handball, not Koscielny’s as Mark Clattenberg thought.

His hold up play then helped him score the winning goal. Pinning Koscielny, he was able to receive the ball, roll the Arsenal man and unleash a thunderbolt. Samuel Umtiti was slow on his help and committed the cardinal sin of turning his back as the shot left Eder’s foot. Hugo Lloris had no chance with the speed and precision of the strike as he tried to throw himself across his goal.

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Eder pins and rolls Koscielny.

It was suddenly Portugal 1-0 France and the impossible was on. Portugal had been defending and frustrating France all match and they continued to do that. They made the last twelve minutes as disjointed and stop-start as they possibly could. Players were going down injured, taking time to retrieve the ball, taking yellows for time-wasting, even Ronaldo was coaching from the sideline.

They were able to hang on, with little threat from France, who were still reeling from the shock of Eder’s wonder strike.

Portugal 1-0 France overall

Portugal’s game plan was little surprise, but France’s was. They were far too passive and even more so after Ronaldo’s withdrawal from the match when they should’ve gone for the jugular. Maybe they assumed it would be just a matter of time? Or maybe the magnitude of the occasion got to them?

The inside left channel was key for France, but they didn’t take their chances when they came along. Portugal added a focal point, which had been lacking after Ronaldo went off, and it won them the match. An attacking gamble by the usually defensively minded Fernando Santos paid off. It ultimately won the game and the Henri Delaunay trophy, a first for Portugal.

Final score: Portugal 1-0 France.



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