Coach Santos orchestrates Portugal revival
Credit must go to 'conductor' Santos for orchestrating Portugal's transformation
Portugal head into Monday morning's (Singapore time) Euro 2016 final after another disciplined performance, proving again in their 2-0 win over Wales that they perform like a well-rehearsed orchestra rather than a solo act.
That has a huge amount to do with their 61-year-old conductor and coach Fernando Santos who took charge in September 2014, vowing to put "tactics first and technical ability second".
Santos reduced the side's dependency on glamorous striker Cristiano Ronaldo and sidelined gifted midfielder Joao Moutinho.
The impact has been impressive.
Since Santos was appointed, the Portuguese have come through six matches at Euro 2016 without losing and are unbeaten in 13 competitive games.
On Monday, they will play in only their second major final since they lost to Greece in Euro 2004 on home soil.
Santos, who used to coach Greece, has never made any apologies for Portugal's dour style and said earlier in the tournament that he was happy for his side to be Euro 2016's "ugly duckling".
Portugal, who usually dominate possession but rarely throw caution to the wind, owe as much to their young, versatile, dynamic midfield as to Ronaldo in attack and they gave Wales precious little breathing space yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Danilo, replacing the suspended William Carvalho, was strong and efficient in the holding role as Portugal largely cut off the supply lines to Welsh playmaker Gareth Bale.
Adrien Silva and Joao Mario were both strong in the tackle and quick on the ball while 18-year-old Renato Sanches was a constant threat on the right-hand side, even if his passing was sometimes wayward.
Real Madrid's award-winning Ronaldo, so often hailed as the star of the team in the past, has to do his share of unglamorous tracking back these days.
Repeatedly praised by Santos for his leadership, the 31-year-old Ronaldo marks opposing defenders and fights for the ball like everyone else although, in an apparent concession, he has been allowed to take every free-kick from a potential scoring position.
The striker did get forward to head home Portugal's first goal superbly.
But, interestingly, Wales coach Chris Coleman was quick to praise Portugal's system after the game.
"Portugal were criticised for the way they played and their style of play and, this that and the other but, if you get to a semi-final, you have to have something about you," he said.
"It's not just about Cristiano Ronaldo, they have a togetherness about them, they have a good system, they have a plan and they stick to that plan."
"It's not just the talent that wins you a game, you have to be a team and I saw a team tonight in Portugal," Coleman added.
"It's not always the best players that win the tournament.
"Portugal are resilient and hard to play against and, if you've got the man (Ronaldo) playing as a striker, he's not bad, to say the least.
"He's always to going a chance or score a goal."
Like many coaches before him, Santos has only stumbled on his ideal line-up during the tournament.
Jose Fonte has proved a more solid option that Ricardo Carvalho at the centre of the defence, Cedric Soares has replaced Vieirinha at right back.
Sanches was given his first international start in the quarter-final against Poland, responding with a Man-of-the-Match performance.
On Monday, they are likely to provide a major tactical challenge to the winners of this morning's second semi-final between France and Germany.
By the numbers
Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to play in three European championship semi-finals. On Monday morning, Portugal will be playing in only their second major final
Party mood in Portugal after semis triumph
Tens of thousands of fans packed into one of Lisbon's main squares exploded with joy as Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal beat Wales to reach the Euro 2016 final yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Horns blared out and flags were hurled in the air as the final whistle ended the match with a 2-0 win in which Ronaldo scored the opening goal.
"We are in the final, we are in the final," became the mass chant in the Praca do Comercio, which was overlooked by a giant screen to show the match.
The wall of noise soon spread into neighbouring streets as fans celebrated another step in their campaign to get over the trauma of losing the Euro final on home territory in 2004.
HAVING A BLAST: Fans at the Terreiro do Paco square in Lisbon screaming in delight after Portugal's qualification for the final. PHOTO: AFP
Portugal has not forgotten images of a 19-year-old Ronaldo in tears after the 1-0 defeat by Greece 12 years ago.
Huge cheers went up every time Ronaldo appeared on the giant screen.
His goal yesterday morning allowed him to equal the record nine scored in European Championship Finals matches by France's Michel Platini.
"When he jumped to score the first goal, everyone could see that he is the best player in the world," said 43-year-old teacher Maria Silva.
"We deserved the win, we will be champions," said 14-year-old fan Maria Beatrix Fernandes.
"They showed a lot of energy and it paid off," added 38-year-old Jorge Novo.
The team, who will play Germany or France in Monday morning's final, have become front page news for days as football fever mounts in a country already mad for the sport.
Portugal's press gave a big salute to Ronaldo and the entire national team yesterday.
Daily sports newspaper A bola has a photograph of Ronaldo celebrating after scoring with the headline: "Portugal, je t'aime - heroic Selecao, reaches the final in Paris."
Ronaldo scored 51 goals in 48 games in all competitions for Real last season and delivered the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out during the Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid.
But he had been under scrutiny after a poor start to the tournament in France.
His struggles are now in the past, with Lisbon-based Correio da Manha national newspaper shouting in a front headline: "Ronaldo flies to the final."
Sports dailies Record and Ojogo both had photographs of Ronaldo jumping higher than Wales centre back James Chester to break the deadlock, with the former applauding Ronaldo in a headline that says: "Again he is the man of the match."
Online national newspaper Diario de Noticias shows Ronaldo celebrating on their front page with a quote from the captain that says: "The dream is here. I believe."