Portugal vs. France: When Ego Overshadows Greatness

This Euro 2024 quarter-final between Portugal and France had the potential to be legendary, but it was overshadowed by one individual’s ego.

Even in his absence, his presence is felt. Cameras seek him out, and fans in their Manchester United jerseys react more intensely. The less he participates, the more significant he becomes, drawing everything into a vortex of attention.

Анна Нэсси, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

Portugal was ultimately consumed by this black hole. A squad brimming with talent became notable only for their ability to captivate us in an uncomfortable way. The game dragged into its third hour, the outcome inevitable, while Gonçalo Ramos and Diogo Jota watched from the bench.

Despite the drama, this was not a bad match. With so many brilliant players, it couldn’t be boring. The game felt like a final, every action and decision balancing on the edge of disaster. Each pass, tackle, and shot was loaded with meaning.

There were moments of both awful finishing and heroic defending. Early on, Randal Kolo Muani was forcefully dealt with by Pepe, who dominated the game with 152 touches. Pepe matched Marcus Thuram stride for stride and blocked a Kylian Mbappé shot, celebrating as if he had won a gold medal. Rúben Dias made a crucial block, Nuno Mendes thwarted Mbappé, and Eduardo Camavinga tackled Rafael Leão just in time. William Saliba was quietly brilliant, showcasing the highest form of footballing heroism.

It’s tempting to criticize this French team, saying Didier Deschamps has crafted a team in his own cautious image. But Deschamps, as a player, was selfless and team-oriented. France feels like a team held together by success alone, where individual talent somehow makes teamwork happen. They seemed to relax during the penalty shootout, which required simple individual skill without tactics.

France’s pragmatic approach included subbing out Mbappé in the 106th minute when it was clear he wasn’t having his night. Outpaced by João Cancelo and unable to convert his shots, Mbappé ended the match on the bench with an ice pack.

France can function without their captain. Portugal, however, remains tied to theirs, a burden dragging them down. Passes longer than 20 yards are futile, and his movements across the field are slow. He missed from close range and squandered a free-kick by hitting all three players in the wall.

It’s hard not to feel resentment towards him for reducing this grand event to a display of his ego. This match could have been a classic, but instead, it was partly stolen—stolen ball possession, attention, and time from players who deserved to be there.

Théo Hernandez scored the winning penalty, and the Portuguese players immediately consoled the heartbroken João Félix, who missed his shot. Mendes, João Palhinha, Nelson Semedo, and even Pepe, despite his own sadness, ran to Félix. The only sadness is that this team’s true potential was never seen.

One player didn’t run to Félix. He walked in the opposite direction, followed only by the camera’s prying eye. That player was Cristiano Ronaldo.


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