• The Portugal coach reveals how he overcame the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo through injury in the final of UEFA EURO 2016
  • As reigning European champions, Portugal will be representing the continent at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 between 17 June-2 July
  • They will line up in Group A with hosts Russia, New Zealand and Mexico 

Portugal coach Fernando Santos had left nothing to chance ahead of the UEFA EURO 2016 final against hosts France, the biggest occasion of his sporting career. Yet, having analysed every detail and prepared in depth for the match, he then saw all his plans turned upside down only 25 minutes into the game.

“You prepare a strategy for the final and you’ve got the best player in the world as an integral part of it,” he explained. “And then, all of a sudden, you find yourself without the best player in the world.” Placed under intense pressure following Cristiano Ronaldo’s untimely first-half injury, the unruffled Santos nevertheless came up with a workable solution, ultimately guiding Portugal to their first major title.

With the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 approaching fast, FIFA.com spoke to the Portugal coach and asked him how he lifted his team following Ronaldo’s injury blow and inspired them to victory.

“The first thing that was clear to me was that we had to change strategy, because we were playing a 4-4-2 with Cristiano and Nani playing off each other,” Santos told FIFA.com. “And as soon as we lost Cristiano, and with no one like him on the bench, we had to change things and play a 4-3-3, with Nani as the link-up man.”  

The Portugal coach is known as “The Engineer”, and not without good reason. The holder of a degree in electronic engineering, he has a proven ability to fix things. Putting his analytical mind to good use once again, he pondered the tactics needed to beat the French, while also searching for the words that would lift his players.

“I tried to give them a clearer explanation of the tactics at half-time. It was clear in my mind that we’d been the better side up to then.” The message for his men was clear: “We had to keep on attacking. We couldn’t give up trying to win the game. If we did, it might have been counterproductive for us.”

The perfect outcome
A half smile breaking across his face, Santos acknowledged the little bit of good fortune that every trophy-winning side needs: “It all worked out well in the end. Coaches sometimes come up with a strategy and it doesn’t go as they planned. But this time it did.”

One of his masterstrokes that day was to bring on the relatively unknown Eder, the man who would end up being the matchwinner. “There was a moment when things became very clear in my mind, halfway through the second half, when I brought on Eder.”

Explaining the reasons behind the change, Santos said: “The first thing I wanted to do was to have someone up front who could hold the ball up and allow the rest of the team to get forward and attack. That’s where we could cause France problems.”

The plan worked to perfection, with the Portuguese causing their opponents the biggest possible problem by taking the lead in the 109th minute.

“I can’t explain how happy I felt after the win, because it was something Portugal had been striving for for many years,” explained the 62-year-old Santos, who felt team spirit had a very big part to play in his side’s success: “It was a team in which everyone came together as one. The coaches, the players and the staff: we were all in it together and we created this very strong team spirit. I think what made the difference and helped us achieve our goal was that two key factors came together: the quality of the players and our collective and tactical ability.

“When the players arrived in France, I knew they could fight to achieve our objective, which was to win,” added Santos, who, as the former Greece coach, knows a thing or two about the big occasion, having been present at the last two EUROs and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. “The players will be travelling to Russia with the same goal in mind: to win the FIFA Confederations Cup. It’s a very important competition because it brings together all the continental champions.”

Like their wily tactician, A Seleçao das Quinas have designs on lifting another trophy. And should the most important part in their well-oiled machine break down again, The Engineer can be relied upon to find a way to keep things running smoothly.