Analysing the France vs Portugal penalty shootout: Ronaldo's stutter, Mbappe's stress, Pepe's tears

Pepe is sobbing into Cristiano Ronaldo’s arms, a combined 80 years and 353 caps, possibly both drawing to an end.

At the other end of Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion, France’s players are dancing to Freed From Desire.

But when you win a penalty shootout, it is only freedom that matters, not the circumstances of it.

In front of the French squad are hundreds of tricolore flags, and they are bouncing. Just as, two minutes earlier, Kylian Mbappe was bouncing on his haunches in agitated stress watching his team-mates try their luck from 12 yards, having been substituted in extra time.

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Before walking off, Ronaldo gazes over. There are 80 yards and a world between them.

This was a tie that deserved penalties, seemingly the only way that either side would find the net. They each had their chances — France through Eduardo Camavinga and Randal Kolo Muani’ Portugal through Ronaldo, Vitinha, and Joao Felix — but grasped at their shots.

In five games, France and their opponents have only produced four goals, and all have been either own goals or penalties. Yet they are somehow in the semi-final — in the end, they did not even need to save a penalty to get there.

Before the shootout, it was Portugal who were notably organised, making a perfect circle with their huddle. Pepe and Ronaldo, the elder statesmen, sat on an icebox, granted one final privilege. In truth, Ronaldo had been afforded these all night, staying on the pitch despite the evidence suggesting otherwise and being treated ahead of extra time by two physiotherapists, massaging one of his legs each.

Away from this, goalkeeper Diogo Costa had formed his own huddle with Portugal’s two back-up goalkeepers — Rui Patricio and Jose Sa — and goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara. He has been here before.

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Goalkeepers Costa and Mike Maignan speak to referee Michael Oliver (Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Six hundred and 19 days ago, Costa became the first goalkeeper to save three penalties in a single Champions League campaign. Four days ago, in Portugal’s first knockout game against Slovenia, he became the first goalkeeper in Euros history to save three penalties in a single shootout.



The secrets of Diogo Costa’s penalty heroics: Patience, explosiveness, going with your gut

Across the halfway line, France’s Mike Maignan has his own penalty-saving reputation — he has stopped 23.7 per cent of shootout efforts on target, well over the average of 18 per cent. He had no special circle, instead joining France’s more ragged huddle. This is a nation which has not won a penalty shootout in 26 years — two of their three losses have come in World Cup finals.

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Kylian Mbappe talks to Maignan of France ahead of the penalty shootout (Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

At the Euros, two coin tosses take place — one to decide the end, another to decide the order. Ronaldo won both. His first decision made logical sense — to take efforts in front of the Portugal fans, who had been out-singing their French counterparts all game. Centre-back Ruben Dias ran out, raised his hands, and got his crowd to roar.

But Ronaldo’s other decision was more puzzling. He chose to take Portugal’s penalties second, which has a marginally lower rate of success — 46 per cent to 54 per cent, generally thought to be because of the added pressure of following your opponent. Effectively, if you take first, a miss can always be rectified by your own goalkeeper. If you go second, there is none of that luxury.

Both goalkeepers adopted the same tactics to raise that pressure. As the taker set the ball, Maignan and Costa stood on the edge of the six-yard box, halfway to goal, dominating the space. Costa stared them out. Maignan spread his arms.

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Marcus Thuram, taking first for France, addressed the ball from straight on before taking three sharp steps to his left and sending Costa the wrong way. The Portugal goalkeeper often seemed to dive early — especially for France’s second penalty, scored by defensive midfielder Youssouf Fofana. This was more like Porto’s Champions League knockout fixture against Arsenal, where Costa could not stop any of the four penalties.

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In between Thuram and Fofana came Ronaldo. He was Portugal’s first taker, perhaps aware of three occasions in which he had placed himself as the fourth or fifth taker, in the hope of scoring the winning penalty, and failed to convert — against Spain in Euro 2012, versus Chile in the 2017 Confederations Cup, and against Napoli in the 2020 Coppa Italia.

In Portugal’s last match against Slovenia, he missed a penalty which left him in tears with 15 minutes of extra time still to play. He was almost apologetic after finally scoring in the shootout, holding up his hands to Portugal’s fans.

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But Hamburg saw the old Ronaldo, pouting his lips before talking as if to say: “This is what I am and this is what I do.” All he had done to that point was sky Portugal’s best chance and provide the attacking dynamism of a hand-drawn plough. He is, still, a good penalty taker — and beat Maignan here, stuttering before striking the ball to his left, into the side netting.

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Takers are allowed to hesitate or stutter — but are not allowed to come to a complete stop. Ronaldo was on the line, but how many referees, in that context, would whistle for that?

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Jules Kounde walked slowly to the spot for France’s third penalty. For 105 minutes, he had been locked in a battle with Rafael Leao which had turned into a dance. The right-back did well — although there were phases where he was beaten, he always bent rather than broke.

Leao’s withdrawal ahead of the second period of extra time was the sign that Kounde ultimately won the battle.

This, however, was the first penalty of his career. The 25-year-old fixed his socks, stared down Costa, and blasted it into the top corner. It was arguably the best penalty of the night.

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There was no celebration of his own — instead a jog over to Maignan, a high five, and encouragement of his keeper.

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Which brings us to Felix (No 11). The Portugal attacker has drifted over the last two years. Out of favour and unmotivated at Atletico Madrid, a loan move to Chelsea did not work out, and nor did another temporary switch to Barcelona last season, where he only started only one of the final nine league matches.

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There has always been the sense that he has all the technical talent in the world but is missing a little something; the detail which allows him to apply it, the calmness to be able to produce it.

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Here was that in a microcosm. His strike of the ball was perfect. The ball hit the post. Boiling down a career in this manner feels harsh — but at the elite level, these are the margins.

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Bradley Barcola scores for France, Costa diving the wrong way. Nuno Mendes needs to score to keep Portugal alive — and despite a gargled scream as it rose steeply off the ground, the left-back found the roof of the net.

But now his counterpart, Theo Hernandez, had the chance to win it for France. At halfway, Ronaldo was the Portugal player closest to his own sideline, his arm around 21-year-old winger Francisco Conceicao.

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On that touchline, but across the dividing line, Mbappe had separated himself from his team-mates. Substituted during extra-time, having suffered another blow to his broken nose, his body cannot contain the agitation.

Hernandez sends Costa the wrong way.

The game’s central figures react as they have been doing all evening. Mbappe sprints ahead, heading everywhere but nowhere. Pepe broke down, tears streaming down his face. Ronaldo slowly walks away.

When things had eventually calmed down, Mbappe picked Conceicao up off the floor.


(Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

(Top photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

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