No wins, no problem - gritty Portugal reach last four at Euro 2016

Portugal have scored a mere six goals in eight-and-a-half hours on the pitch at Euro 2016, but despite not winning a single match in regulation time they now find themselves in the last four of the competition.

"As we move further along, we get closer to our goal," coach Fernando Santos said. "We have the drive and ambition, and we want to bring great joy to the Portuguese people."

On Thursday Poland joined Iceland, Austria, Hungary and Croatia on the list of teams Portugal have faced in France and, like those before them, failed to beat Fernando Santos' gritty side.

Portugal probably had the better of the 1-1 quarter-final draw, despite falling behind to Robert Lewandowski's early opener, and Renato Sanches' deflected equalizer restored parity before half-time.

Star player Cristiano Ronaldo had another frustrating contest, missing a handful of chances he would have expected to convert but, crucially, the Portugal defence was generally solid.

And when the opportunity came to settle the tie from the penalty spot, they remained cool with five successful kicks while Jakub Blaszczykowski had his effort saved by keeper Rui Patricio.

"It's a lot of hard work to be this lucky," Sanches said. "It's a wonderful moment for this team ... we've been working hard, doing our best.

"People criticize but in the end we don't care because we're in the semi-finals."

Portugal were eliminated at the group stage of the 2014 World Cup but have now reached the last four of five out of six European Championships.

And they now head to Lyon next week to face Wales or Belgium looking for a return to the final for the first time since they hosted the tournament in 2004.

"We'll approach the semis in the same way we've done so far," Santos said. "Our feet are planted solidly on the ground. We'll be up against a very good team but we'll be prepared."

The margins in their games so far have been wafer thin - Poland are also undefeated in regular time over their five matches in France yet are going home while Portugal continue.

The Portuguese have only led one match so far and were repeatedly on the verge of going out in the final group stage game when they trailed three times to Hungary before sneaking out of Group F in third-place.

Logic would suggest that Portugal cannot keep squeezing through 50-50 encounters and unless Ronaldo finds his touch they could be in trouble.

But Sanches was a determined presence in the middle of the park in a man of the match performance against Poland, Nani is a buzzing, constant threat while others such as Joao Mario, Ricardo Quaresma and Joao Moutinho can also contribute creatively.

Goalkeeper Rui Patricio has been in superb form while the defence, despite suffering the wobbles against Hungary, has been generally solid. Even hot-headed centre-back Pepe - who was sent off at the World Cup for head-butting an opponent - has kept relatively calm.

"I don't usually single out players but Pepe was amazing," Santos said. "People talk about Cristiano Ronaldo and he's been playing some brilliant football but Pepe was fantastic."

Perhaps the marginal decline of Ronaldo - despite Santos' protestations - to merely being very good rather than out of this world is helping the team as they can no longer rely on a superhero to save them.

The proof will be in the next match. Or perhaps two.

Last update: Fri, 01/07/2016 - 11:35
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