Fernando Santos’s first outing as Portugal coach ended in defeat at the Stade de France, thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba. Santos has been charged with rebuilding the side following a dismal World Cup and 1-0 loss at home to Albania last month that begun their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in woeful fashion and proved the final nail in the coffin for Paulo Bento. In the former Greece boss’s debut, there were some positive signs, particularly later on, yet he will also have discovered that he has much work to do, despite Ricardo Quaresma’s late penalty to half their arrears.
France don’t have to worry about the hassle of qualifying for the next European Championships, and Didier Deschamps’s men continue to look like they’ll be a real threat on home soil in two years’ time. Benzema put them ahead in less than three minutes as they tore through a narrow, lackluster Portugal side in the early going. Pogba then added a controlled finish after the halftime interval, with Portugal again exposed in wide positions. Santos’s main change, as well as bringing Tiago and Ricardo Carvalho back into the fold, was to operate with Danny as the falsest of false nines with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani wide. While it had some success going forward, it has yet to solve the problem of Portugal’s vulnerability in transition, especially down the flanks. Although things improved for Santos’s side as the match wore on, it would have been an injustice had a debatably won penalty, when Joao Mario went down seconds after coming on, had led to an equalizer.
The game could have already been put to bed in the just the first 15 minutes. With the game just underway, Antoine Griezmann was allowed to get in down the left of Portugal’s defense and produce a pull back that went all the way across the box for the in-rushing Bacary Sagna to hit a scuffed shot at goal that Rui Patricio could only parry up for Benzema to volley in. the early onslaught did not end there. Time and again it was the same scenario, with Portugal being crudely exposed down the flanks. It was left-back Eliseu who was having a particularly tough time and his sloppy giveaway allowed the lively Griezmann to stream past him, but the forward’s poked shot lacked real venom. The defending from the visitors wasn’t any better moments later to allow Raphael Varane a second chance to chip the ball across goal, with Portugal once again escaping thanks to a wasteful shot, this time from Benzema.
Despite their early defensive struggles, Portugal’s lightening attack did enable them to create chances of their own to pull level. Danny failed to capitalize on Ronaldo’s quick-thinking to find him free in the box from a throw-in, while Nani did well to go past Varane on the edge of the box, but his finish on his left foot lacked conviction and trickled wide of the post. Things weren’t going to plan for Ronaldo, either. In absurdly prolific form for Real Madrid, Ronaldo’s tricks when trying to outfox Sagna in order to find space for a shot only succeeded in outwitting himself.
He will have been even more frustrated after the interval. From Nani’s cross, his typically firm header looked destined for the far corner before being denied by a superb one-handed save from Steve Mandanda. Just before the 70th minute mark, Portugal’s problems out wide resurfaced and France doubled their lead. Cedric was this time at fault to let Patrice Evra to get in behind him. The Juventus’s man’s cut-back from the byline was well laid off by Benzema and then coolly and precisely tucked into the corner by Pogba.
Blaise Matuidi came close to widening the deficit further after bursting through into the box, but Portugal ended with the respectability of just a one-goal loss. There looked very limited contact as Joao Mario went down, but the referee pointed to the spot, and, with Ronaldo having just been taken off, Quaresma stepped up and sent Mandanda the wrong way. Santos will now aim for further improvement when qualifying points are at stake in Denmark on Tuesday.