Portugal 0 France 0: Penalties decide cagey quarter-final as Mbappe progresses and Ronaldo goes out – The Briefing

France are through to the Euro 2024 semi-finals after defeating Portugal 5-3 on penalties.

Anyone tuning into the first half after the pulsating Germany vs Spain quarter-final was rapidly brought down to earth as Portugal and France played out a largely underwhelming opening 45 minutes. The teams’ combined expected goals total at half-time was 0.15, the lowest at any match at Euro 2024.

Thankfully, the second half opened up a little, with Mike Maignan producing some decent saves to deny Bruno Fernandes and Vintinha, before France ended the 90 minutes with a flurry of long shots.

But anyone who found all that a little bit exciting would have been mollified by extra-time which — like the first half — was an elapsed period of time in which not very much happened, until a Nuno Mendes shot almost crept past Maignan. A penalty shootout was the inevitable conclusion and France scored all five of theirs, while Joao Felix missed for Portugal.

Tim Spiers, Liam Tharme and Amy Lawrence break down the talking points from Friday’s game in Hamburg.

How the game was (eventually) decided…

Margins are extremely fine in football.

Of the nine penalties taken in this shoot-out, eight-and-a-half of them were perfect. But Joao Felix’s penalty struck the post and ended Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo’s dreams.

After his remarkable heroics in the previous round against Slovenia, saving all three penalties he faced, the stage was set for keeper Diogo Costa to take Portugal through again.

France had also lost their previous three penalty shoot-outs in major tournaments, not winning one since the 1998 World Cup.

But this time they prevailed, thanks to a huge slice of fortune in the lottery of a shoot-out.

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(Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

The first five penalties all went in — Ousmane Dembele ending Costa’s record of saving consecutive pens, then Ronaldo, after muttering to himself, taking a deep breath and stuttering twice during his run-up, beat Mike Maignan.

Youssouf Fofana, Bernardo Silva and Jules Kounde all netted…but then came the decisive moment when substitute Felix struck an awkward penalty against the post. He stood, distraught, head in hands.

Bradley Barcola, who had replaced Mbappe in extra time, pressed home France’s advantage to make it 4-2.

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(Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Nuno Mendes, who had missed a fantastic chance to win the game in the 120th minute, knew that if he missed his penalty Portugal would be out, but he showed great nerve and struck a howitzer into the roof of the net.

Theo Hernandez stepped up with the chance to win it for France as Mbappe stood on his haunches, pleading him to score…and he did, sending Costa the wrong way to keep France’s Euro 2024 dream alive.

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Tim Spiers

Did you enjoy the Pepe vs Thuram footrace?  

In a game of few chances one of the highlights was a middle aged man chasing down a 26-year-old man to tackle him.

Doesn’t sound too thrilling, but Pepe v Marcus Thuram was one of the battles of the tournament so far, a contest for the ages (with the emphasis on ages).

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Pepe, aged 41, acceleration speed on EA Sports FC 24 listed as 60, pace 70.

Thuram, aged 26, acceleration speed on EA Sports FC 24 listed as 75, pace 85.

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This was actually a pivotal moment in the contest; a preciously rare France counter, something Portugal had rallied against all game.

Portugal lost possession high up the field and Thuram’s eyes lit up, seeing the creaking, wrinkly defender in front of him on the halfway line. No match for me, he thought.

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Thuram kicked it long and put the afterburners on, fully expecting to leave Pepe in the dust/grass…but Pepe just about kept up.

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Thuram settled, stood Pepe up on the right flank…and then burst past him to the byline, probably laughing as he did so like Roadrunner fleeing Wile E. Coyote.

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But this time Coyote (fine, Pepe) has the last laugh, mustering all his remaining energy to amble back and launch himself at Thuram as he tried to cross the ball from the byline.

Tackle successful, corner conceded, Pepe up and roaring to the skies like it’s the opening scene from the film 300. Absolutely glorious.

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Tim Spiers

Another anonymous performance from Ronaldo?

Given Cristiano Ronaldo had yet to score at Euro 2024 going into the game there was a lively debate about what he actually brought to this Portugal side if not goals.

Well, there was a resounding answer to that question during what was an anonymous performance from the Al-Nassr striker.

There wasn’t even a circus surrounding him here — he didn’t take Portugal’s first free-kick of the night, he didn’t have any tantrums, he just didn’t, well, do anything. His waxwork at Madame Tussauds would have been more use (and would probably be less shiny).

Okay, he produced some nice link up play here and there, but nothing which suggested he should be keeping Diogo Jota or Goncalo Ramos out of the XI. That was little surprise given it was two years since Ronaldo had scored a goal against top level opposition, plus his age of 39, plus the standard of opposition.

Dayot Upamecano and William Saliba comfortably coped with him, with the latter embarrassingly showing up Ronaldo’s lack of pace when he overtook him to chase a loose ball and calmly turned and cleared. It summed up Ronaldo’s night.

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(Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Portugal’s tactic of throwing crosses into the box (ahead of the game they had played 40 per cent crosses than any other nation) didn’t work either — they were either misdirected or Ronaldo didn’t get on the end of them. He even managed to get caught offside from a Pepe defensive clearance in the second half, before firing a shot miles over the bar in the first half of extra-time.

The longer it went on, the more bizarre it was that Martinez persisted with him on the field. In Portugal’s four meaningful matches at this tournament (i.e. every one bar their final group game) Ronaldo played every second. Was a pair of successful penalties in Portugal’s two shootouts really worth it?

Tim Spiers

This was billed as Mbappe versus Ronaldo, but the Frenchman had a quiet game too.

In the first half he was barely involved in the action, reflecting France’s staid attacking performance.

At one point he uncharacteristically played a wayward pass straight into the Portugal midfield, on another he played a through ball down the left but no one chased it. He just wasn’t himself.

Mbappe was the obvious threat for Portugal to try and shut down and, to give them their dues, they did just that, getting back in big numbers whenever he approached their third of the field, while Joao Cancelo enjoyed getting the better of him when he drifted left.

There was a worrying moment when a header was planted against the side of Mbappe’s head and he lay dazed on the turf having taken his mask off.

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(Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

He recovered from that to play on but, aside from one moment of textbook explosiveness when he forged a one-two before firing at Diogo Costa from 20 yards, it was a very frustrating evening for Mbappe who looked to be troubled by the uncomfortable protection on his face and was substituted during extra-time. The game was worse for it.

Tim Spiers

Did Didier Deschamps’ tactics work?

When asked about how he would replace No 8 Adrien Rabiot (suspended) before the game, Deschamps joked that he wasn’t sharing his strategy but was interested if the journalists had any insight on Portugal’s starting XI.

Deschamps rotated his forwards in the previous four games, using both Kylian Mbappe and Randal Kolo Muani as wingers and No 9s, and Antoine Griezmann in midfield and winger roles too. This time he opted for a split-strikers system in a 4-4-2 diamond, a system not used at the previous four major tournaments.

It allowed Griezmann to play his traditional No 10 role, putting Mbappe and Thuram in positions where they could run in-behind or drop to feet. Starting with Eduardo Camavinga on the left, and N’Golo Kante on the right (they switched sides after 30 minutes), with Aurelien Tchouameni at the base, ensured France had structure and balance in midfield. After all, Deschamps makes sure he does not lose knockout games before he wins them.

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Griezmann completed 32 of his 34 passes in 67 minutes (before being substituted) but only created one chance. There were moments when either full-back got into advanced positions — notably one Theo Hernandez cutback from the left — but once again France failed to pack the box sufficiently to attack crosses with enough varied runs.

France’s best chances came in transition, a side of their game which has not featured enough this Euros but was always a super-strength at previous tournaments under Deschamps. Still no open-play goal in regulation time, but they’ll get another chance to get one in the semi-final against Spain.

Liam Tharme

William Saliba’s growing influence in a new role 

This has been a coming of age tournament for William Saliba. Pre-tournament, all the signs were that he was not a player who had the trust of Dider Deschamps. He was not expected in the starting line-up until the rumours started the day before France’s opening match. Prior to this Euros he had only played a full match for his country six times.

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(Severin Aichbauer/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

He has forced his way from the very edges of Deschamps’s confidence to a mainstay of the back line. Cristiano Ronaldo might not be what he was but Saliba swatted him away without a care in the world.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his tournament is how he has become increasingly comfortable on his wrong side. On matchday one a split second of hesitancy was tangible as he adjusted his body to playing on the left. Now? Pas de problem.

Amy Lawrence

How will France feel about facing Spain?

Hmmmm. Spain tend not to be France’s favourite opponents. That idea is almost as old as international football time. When they first met, four times in the 1920s, Spain won the lot with an aggregate scoreline of 18-2. More recently it has been notably closer.

Although France have good memories of beating Spain in the Nations League final in 2021, they do not arrive in this semi-final in the most expressive spirits. Deschamps will again have to rely on France’s resilient defence. They were powerful again in resisting Portugal’s best efforts, with Mike Maignan excelling behind the back four when called upon.

France are much changed since the 2021 Nations League victory — the spine included Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema — and it is crystal clear that there is little rhythm in the Blues at this tournament.

Will they click? Can they click? Spain are sure to be favourites and it is up to Deschamps to find the formula to press on.

Amy Lawrence

What next for France?

Tuesday, July 9: Spain, Munich, 8pm UK, 3pm ET

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(Top photo: Getty Images)

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