Fernando Santos played down Cristiano Ronaldo's gesture after Portugal missed out on automatic World Cup qualification, though the under-fire head coach guaranteed his team will be in Qatar next year.

Portugal will feature in the World Cup play-offs following Sunday's dramatic 2-1 defeat at home to Serbia in Lisbon.

Requiring only a draw to book their trip to Qatar in Group A, Portugal were on track after Renato Sanches and Dusan Tadic traded goals in the opening half.

However, Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench and scored in the 90th minute to send Serbia to the showpiece tournament.

Portugal superstar and captain Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure afterwards, gesturing as coach Santos approached him on the pitch post-game.

But Santos insisted Ronaldo was referencing March's reverse fixture in Belgrade, where the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was not awarded a stoppage-time goal, despite the ball appearing to cross the line in the 2-2 draw.

"Nobody was explaining anything," Santos told reporters when asked about Ronaldo. "He was telling the other guy that there [in Serbia] he had scored a goal at the last minute and that the referee didn't count.

"That's what he was saying at the time. It wasn't a matter for us to be there now. On the field, he said that we scored a goal there and the referee didn't, but it's his outburst. It's perfectly normal.

"Now no one goes after a game to explain what happened or didn't happen. I went to raise the players' heads."

Ronaldo's Portugal will take part in the play-offs as one of the second-placed seeded teams.

The play-offs will not be contested in two-legged ties, with the semi-finals and final set to take place in March next year.

"The truth is that we did not have a good performance overall," Santos said. "Therefore, we have to say sorry. The Portuguese people are obviously sad. Not more than us, but just like us.

"But my team will be at the Qatar World Cup. That is guaranteed. We just have to compete in the play-offs which is not common for us. Portugal never went through a play-off with me, but they played it on three occasions and qualified for the finals in all of them.

"We will do it again. And I personally took part in a play-off, too. And I also qualified for the World Cup."

The only similarity between Portugal and Brazil is that they will both have a 2022 World Cup spot secured by Sunday, according to Fernando Santos. 

Brazil booked their place in Qatar on Thursday with a 1-0 victory over Colombia, their 11th win in 12 qualifiers through which they have remained undefeated. 

Despite having accrued six points more than closest rivals Argentina, Tite's side receive regular criticism for a pragmatic approach and lack of flair. 

Portugal have come under fire for similar reasons during their World Cup qualifying campaign, with a 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland on Thursday doing little to assuage the frustration. 

A draw against Serbia at the Estadio da Luz on Sunday will be enough for Portugal to secure a place at the World Cup, which Santos believes would then be the only thing his team have in common with Brazil. 

Asked if he felt there were any similarities between Brazil and Portugal, Santos replied: "What I get from that question is that Brazil have qualified and that's what I believe will happen tomorrow with Portugal and we'll be present at the World Cup finals. Other than that, there is no comparison." 

Portugal were held to a 2-2 draw against Serbia in Belgrade back in March and will simply need to avoid defeat to seal top spot in Group A. 

The two teams have met five times since March 2015, with Portugal going unbeaten and claiming three wins.

"The idea cannot be to play for a draw. The two teams will try to win the game. That's what I think," said Santos. 

"I don't think it will be a game of patience. No team will play crazy, not even Serbia who need to win will play like that. 

"But Serbia always play to win. They won't be completely unbalanced. If they get unbalanced, they are taking more risks. 

"The two teams have great ability, but I believe Portugal will win the game." 

Portugal head coach Fernando Santos insisted there was little difference between a win and a draw against the Republic of Ireland as World Cup qualifying would still be decided against Serbia.

Santos' side were held to a goalless draw in Thursday's clash with Ireland, who have just one win to their name in World Cup qualifying.

The Euro 2016 winners had previously embarked on a five-game winning run across all competitions, scoring 16 times, but could manage just three shots on target in Dublin.

The stalemate leaves Portugal and Serbia both on 17 points with one game remaining and the top two will meet in Lisbon on Sunday in Group A's winner-takes-all decider.

Asked if he was happy with the result, Santos told RT3: "Naturally. In terms of qualification, winning 5-0 or drawing here was the same thing.

"Of course, I would have preferred to win 5-0, but the result is positive. Serbia have to play in our stadium to win the game.

"Obviously we wanted to win, we didn't want to draw, that's not what we came here for. They're a very aggressive and very physical opponent.

"In the attacking organisation, we let them create danger. The players tried but we always had difficulties – they were quick to close spaces."

Santos, who insisted he was "convinced" Portugal would still qualify, left out the likes of Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo for the visit to the Republic of Ireland.

He will also be without Pepe against Serbia after the centre-back was dismissed late on for two bookable offences.

Asked for clarification whether he had spared players to avoid yellow-card accumulated suspensions, Santos added: "I saved them because you never know if the players are conditioned or not.

"I wanted to have Pepe for the game, but I'm going to sleep well. We'll find the right players [for the Serbia game]."

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Portugal cruised past Luxembourg 5-0 in Tuesday's World Cup qualifying clash.

Ronaldo took just eight minutes to open the scoring at the Estadio Algarve as he finished from the penalty spot before doubling his tally soon after in the same fashion.

Bruno Fernandes netted a third inside a decisive opening 20 minutes before the Manchester United playmaker assisted Joao Palhinha for the fourth in the second half.

Ronaldo then secured his hat-trick with three minutes remaining to cap the hosts' dominant performance and ensure they remain a point behind Group A leaders Serbia – who have played a game more – ahead of the next international break.

Sebastien Thill and Anthony Moris were the guilty parties for the early penalties with fouls on Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo, the latter clinically converting both.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as Fernandes made it 3-0 despite Moris getting a hand to his right-footed drive following Silva's throughball after 17 minutes.

Ronaldo almost claimed his hat-trick on the stroke of half-time but was denied by Moris, who also saved Silva's acrobatic volley.

Danel Sinani brought a rare save from Rui Patricio, with both Palhinha and Fernandes missing the target at the other end after being found by Nuno Mendes' searching deliveries.

Ronaldo's overhead-kick deserved to complete his treble, but Moris tipped over before Palhinha headed home from Fernandes' resulting corner.

Luxembourg almost grabbed a consolation goal through Gerson Rodrigues, but his left-footed strike was turned away by Patricio and Ronaldo completed the scoring as he headed in from Ruben Neves' deep cross.

Cristiano Ronaldo "is a player who really needs to play" insisted Portugal head coach Fernando Santos, who appeared to criticise Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ronaldo scored for the ninth time in seven Portugal appearances as the Selecao eased past Qatar 3-0 in Saturday's international friendly.

The all-time leading men's international scorer with 112, Ronaldo started and played 45 minutes after he was benched by United boss Solskjaer in the Premier League last week.

Ronaldo – who has scored against a record 46 nations for Portugal – was rested as Solskjaer opted to start Edinson Cavani before introducing the Portuguese superstar for the final 33 minutes in a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Everton.

After Portugal's routine win, Santos seemingly aimed a subtle dig at Solskjaer in Ronaldo's historic 181st international appearance.

"It was important to give him some playing time and I understood that it would be better to give him 45 minutes," Santos said post-match.

"Ronaldo is a player who really needs to play, to have contact with the ball. Training is not the same thing. In the last match, he had played 20 minutes [it was 33 minutes]."

Ronaldo has hit the ground running in his second stint with United, the 36-year-old having returned from Juventus before the end of the transfer window.

Named September's Player of the Month in the Premier League, Ronaldo has scored five goals for United, including three in the Premier League.

Ronaldo has outperformed his expected goals (xG – 1.03), expected goals on target (xGOT – 0.9) and goals (0.89) – all three topping the Premier League list.

Fernando Santos felt Portugal deserved to win by an even bigger margin in their 3-0 victory over Azerbaijan in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Portugal made it four wins in five Group A matches to reclaim top spot from Serbia, who were held 1-1 by the Republic of Ireland.

The 2016 European champions were two goals ahead inside 31 minutes thanks to Bernardo Silva's volley and Andre Silva's tap-in.

Diogo Jota added a third for the visitors 15 minutes from time, but only after the Liverpool attacker and Andre Silva had wasted some glorious opportunities.

Portugal scored from three of their 21 attempts in total, a third of those on target, and Santos was disappointed his side did not further improve their goal difference.

"The only thing about the result that is not good was the amount of goals we scored," he told RTP.

"When teams are not organised then they have difficulties, running a lot after the ball and wearing themselves out. When they have the ball they have more difficulties.

"Without some balance in the game it becomes difficult. We knew this was a game of patience as the opponents usually defend well. We knew an early goal would force them to change.

"That happened after the second goal when they went with a 4-3-3. We were always looking for the goal and creating spaces to enter, either through the middle or out wide."

 

Jota was responsible for a team-high five of Portugal's shots, finding the net from one of those having earlier claimed an assist for Andre Silva's goal.

He now has eight goals in 21 caps for the Selecao, who have put their Euro 2020 disappointment behind them with three wins from three over the past week.

"In these three games, one of which was a friendly, we did our job, which was to win each of them," Jota told RTP. "Today's performance was good and so was the result.

"This is what football is all about. You should never give up after missing. I'm glad I scored in the end. I always want to help individually, but the result is the most important thing."

Portugal were without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, who has now linked up with Manchester United, but are two points clear of Serbia in Group A with three more fixtures still to play.

"Every opponent and every match is tough and will be like a final for us," Andre Silva said. "We drew in Serbia and still have to play them in our last game.

"We have to focus on ourselves as we have those three finals to win."

Portugal boss Fernando Santos is worried by the number of goals his side have conceded in recent games.

The Selecao claimed a 3-1 win over nine-man Qatar in Saturday's friendly to make it back-to-back victories since exiting Euro 2020 to Belgium at the last-16 stage.

Santos made 11 changes on the back of the late 2-1 victory over Republic of Ireland and Portugal took time to get going against World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar.

However, quickfire goals from Andre Silva and debutant Otavio put Portugal in control at half-time, at which point Qatar were a player short after Meshaal Barsham was dismissed.

Portugal switched off in the second period and gave their opponents a route back into the game when Abdelkarim Hassan headed in unmarked.

Bruno Fernandes converted a penalty late on to seal the win for the 2016 European champions, but Santos was not entirely pleased with his much-changed side's performance.

"In the first 15 minutes, we were good in terms of our defensive organisation," he said at his post-match news conference. 

"When Qatar were looking to attack from behind, we were good. We never let Qatar create, we stole a lot of balls and with clear situations of being able to score on the counter.

"But in ball circulation, we were very slow and a lot of passes went astray, which allowed Qatar to create two or three opportunities on the counter-attack. 

"They have very fast players up front. In the first 15 minutes, in terms of scoring opportunities, we ended up being equal. 

"After those 15 minutes, the possibility for them to counter-attack ended, the team began to circulate in a different way, creating situations with lots of security. 

"We pressed very well, made it 2-0 and it could have been more.

"We were still good in the first 10 minutes of the second half. But we disconnected a little and let the opponent pick up the ball and they scored, meaning we couldn't relax."

Portugal, who required a couple of late headers from Cristiano Ronaldo to overcome Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, have now conceded nine goals in their last five matches.

That follows on from a run of three games in a row without conceding earlier this year.

"A team that concedes nine goals in five games is worrying," Santos added. "There are things we have always done very well and one of them is defensive set-pieces.

"It was very rare for us to concede goals like that, but now we do. I've already alerted the players to that. Just this morning we spent time working on set-pieces."

Brazilian-born Otavio obtained Portuguese citizenship in March and marked his first appearance for the Selecao with a goal.

He scored from one of his two shots on target and also played a joint-high three key passes, which was matched by Fernandes despite the midfielder only playing 30 minutes.

Asked what he made of Otavio's display, Santos said: "He was part of the group of players that did well for 30 minutes."

Portugal switch focus back to their World Cup qualifying Group A campaign with a trip to Azerbaijan on Tuesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo will play in all three of Portugal's fixtures during the international break following his return to Manchester United, head coach Fernando Santos said.

Ronaldo completed his United comeback on Tuesday, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner re-joining the Red Devils from Juventus for a second spell following his successful first stint at Old Trafford between 2003 and 2009.

Amid the hype in Manchester, Ronaldo's attention has swiftly turned to matters with Portugal as Santos' men prepare to face Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.

Portugal will also meet Qatar in a friendly on Saturday before resuming their road to Qatar 2022 against Azerbaijan on Tuesday.

As Ronaldo stands on the cusp of breaking his tie with Ali Daei for the most international goals in men's football (109), Santos confirmed the 36-year-old's availability.

"I am interested in [Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes'] motivation while playing for the national team. You're a British journalist, you can ask them about Manchester United when they are back at their club," Santos told reporters.

"For me, the important thing is that they will be focused on the national team. I can say that they are motivated for the three matches we have ahead of us.

"There is no doubt that Ronaldo and all the players are able to play against Ireland. I understand all the attention we get because of him. He is going to play in three matches.

"We will have to manage some things, mostly in the second match, we will have to manage things. It will not be easy for the players to play three matches in seven days.

"We have to manage them across all the games, but mostly the second. It is always important because it is a national team match."

Formerly a dazzling winger but now a penalty-box poacher, Ronaldo has netted 674 times across 895 club games in all competitions, averaging a goal every 108 minutes.

Those 674 goals break down into 122 with his supposedly weaker left foot, 110 with his head and 440 with his favoured right boot.

Following his arrival as a fresh-faced teenager from Sporting in 2003, he scored 118 times for United across 292 appearances before his departure in 2009.

Between his entrance on the Premier League stage and his final appearance in May 2009, Frank Lampard (131) and Thierry Henry (124) are the only two to have a hand in more English top-flight goals than Ronaldo (118) – Henry (92) the only one to outscore Ronaldo's 84.

Ronaldo is a five-time winner of the Champions League, leading the all-time scoring charts with 134 goals in 176 games – 14 ahead of second place, and eternal rival, Lionel Messi.

Fernando Santos could not question Portugal's effort as he revealed some players were in tears after losing to Belgium at Euro 2020.

Portugal were reigning European champions having stunned France in Euro 2016 and an exciting squad hinted at another challenge over the coming weeks.

But a draw with France in their final Group F match saw Santos' side condemned to a last-16 clash with the world's top-ranked team.

Thorgan Hazard was the matchwinner for Belgium, his spectacular strike enough for a 1-0 success – their first against Portugal since 1989.

This was despite Portugal attempting 23 shots – worth 1.7 expected goals (xG) – to the Red Devils' six (0.2 xG).

"We are disappointed and sad," Santos told TVI24. "I've got some players crying in the dressing room. They gave everything.

 

"A defeat is a defeat. I honestly don't have many words to say right now. We all wanted it and we believed in it.

"We had confidence and we were convinced that we could reach the final and win. There is no justice or injustice, we conceded a goal and we could not score."

The coach added: "The players did everything. They gave them what they had and there's nothing to point to them.

"They were tired but found energy to overcome the gap in rest between the teams. But that's no good now, it's just talk."

Joao Palhinha made his first senior international start in the middle of midfield, completing 94.6 per cent of his passes and making a game-high six tackles.

"We have to raise our heads, see what we can improve," he told RTP. "Obviously this does not represent the value of this team.

"We really missed the lucky moment, that was the definition of this game. It is with great misfortune that we leave here with this result."

Fernando Santos hailed Portugal's strength of character after they kept their European Championship defence alive with a 2-2 draw against France in Budapest.

Cristiano Ronaldo netted a penalty in each half of the Euro 2020 fixture to move level with Ali Daei as the most prolific international footballer of all time on 109 goals.

When Karim Benzema's second goal of a gripping contest at the Puskas Arena gave world champions France a 2-1 lead two minutes into the second half, Portugal – who suffered a chastening 4-2 defeat to Germany last weekend – were staring at elimination.

But superstar captain Ronaldo induced a handball from Jules Kounde that was punished by whistle-happy referee Mateu Lahoz and stepped up to do the rest.

"What I really liked was the team's collective behaviour," Portugal head coach Santos told reporters afterwards.

"When I was asked what we had to do that was different from the game against Germany, I said it was to be like ourselves.

"We were strong, consistent, with a great spirit. We can continue to improve.

"In the second half we didn't start well but we regrouped."

 

Joao Palhinha was introduced at half-time in place of Danilo Pereira, who suffered a heavy blow to the head when Hugo Lloris fouled him for Ronaldo's first penalty.

Sporting CP midfielder Palhinha did his part in implementing Santos' game plan after Benzema dispatched Paul Pogba's magnificent throughball to ramp up the pressure on the reigning champions.

"The Germany game served as a lesson. The team improved a lot, defending more compactly, managing [the game] better with the ball, and that was reflected today," Palhinha told UEFA.com.

"The coach asked me to be more positional, to be more compact in the middle, and to not give space to the midfielders and [Antoine] Griezmann."

A daunting last-16 assignment awaits against Belgium in Seville on Sunday, with Roberto Martinez's side enjoying two days' extra rest after coasting to three group wins from three games.

"Now we have to think about Belgium, who are tough opponents. If we look at the rankings, they are first. But let's evaluate and realise what we have to do for this match," Santos added.

"Is not at a disadvantage [to have less recovery time. Rest is very important, we have to recover so that they are fresh. We cannot use this as a handicap.

"Let's see if there have been any changes in Belgium, let's analyse the team and prepare for the game with the usual goal: to move forwards."

Cristiano Ronaldo equalled Ali Daei's all-time international goalscoring record as he held his nerve to haul Portugal to a 2-2 draw with France and into the knockout rounds of Euro 2020.

Ronaldo scored the first of three penalties awarded by Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz at the Puskas Arena, although his old Real Madrid strike partner Karim Benzema levelled from the spot and put the world champions ahead at the start of the second half.

At that stage, the holders were staring at elimination as Les Blues eyed a measure of revenge for their Euro 2016 final defeat, but Ronaldo stepped up again at his country's hour of need when Jules Kounde was penalised for handball.

Having already overhauled Miroslav Klose – whose countrymen Germany flirted with disaster before salvaging a 2-2 draw against Hungary in Munich – to become the leading combined scorer at World Cups and European Championships combined, Ronaldo beat Hugo Lloris again to pull level with the mark set by Iran's Daei – one that has long been in the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's sights.

Paul Pobga unlocked the Portugal defence with a glorious 16th-minute throughball, although Kylian Mbappe's finish was not of the same standard and Rui Patricio saved.

Opposite number Hugo Lloris did not cover himself in glory when he rashly tried to punch Joao Moutinho's free-kick and clattered into Danilo Pereira. The France captain was cautioned and unable to atone as Ronaldo sent him the wrong way from the spot.

He was quickly followed into the book by Antoine Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez as Lahoz placed himself at the centre of the contest, and the official handed France a lifeline as he penalised Nelson Semedo for blocking off Mbappe and Benzema dispatched from 12 yards.

Another delicious Pogba pass completed a swift turnaround, as Benzema got away from Ruben Dias to coolly slot home two minutes into the second half.

Ronaldo almost found an instant response when he met Raphael Guerreiro's and he levelled with an hour played, Lahoz pointing to the spot once more when Kounde handled the Juventus star's delivery.

Pogba remained the game's outstanding player and Rui Patricio clawed out a stunning 25-yard effort from the Manchester United man before springing up to sharply deny Griezmann on the follow-up.

In stoppage time, Lahoz passed up the chance to give the fourth spot-kick of a fairly remarkable personal outing and a VAR check spared Bruno Fernandes for a clumsy challenge on fellow substitute Kingsley Coman.

What does it mean? France top 'group of death' as Portugal and Germany live to fight another day

The value of Benzema's brace was born out in France topping the group as the only undefeated team, earning a comparatively favourable tie against Switzerland in Bucharest. By contrast, Portugal travel to Seville to take on the world's number-one ranked side Belgium and Germany must face England at Wembley.

A record-breaking defeat to Germany on matchday two leaves Portugal with work to do against France in a repeat of the previous European Championship final.

Portugal became the first defending champions to concede four goals at the Euros and now need at least a point to reach the last 16.

Top spot in Group F could still be theirs if they beat France, although Portugal's Euro 2016 final triumph was their only win against Les Bleus in 13 attempts.

Reflecting on the Germany match ahead of this tough test, coach Fernando Santos said: "We all felt disappointed on our way back.

"Everyone feels a sense of responsibility, and the following day the players reacted well.

"They are experienced players and appreciate that sometimes you don't win. There are times when even the top teams don't deal well with defeat."

France have never previously played Portugal before the semi-final stage of a major tournament, but their meetings tend to be low scoring. The previous four have provided only three goals.

Although Didier Deschamps' men are already through as at least one of the four best third-placed sides, the coach insists they do not lack motivation.

"To be honest, in the situation where we are now, if we had six points I would have the same thoughts because a negative result would have the same impact," he said.

"We have the insurance of being qualified already, that gives us some kind of tranquillity but it won't change our playing style.

"Of course we owe it to ourselves and the French people to deliver the best possible result."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo

When is Ronaldo not Portugal's player to watch? He has history in his sights, too, having tied Miroslav Klose as the leading scorer at Euros and World Cups combined (19 goals) and moved within three of Ali Daei's world-record 109-goal tally last time out. The Juventus superstar has never scored against France, though, his six goalless appearances his worst record in international football.

France – Antoine Griezmann

Griezmann was the subject of praise from Santos ahead of this match and is himself only three goals adrift of a benchmark for France. He has 11 goals at major international tournaments, with Michel Platini's 14 leading the way. He has Thierry Henry (12) and Just Fontaine (13) to leapfrog before reaching that record, though.
 

KEY OPTA FACTS

– This is the fifth match between Portugal and France at a major tournament, but it is the first time they have met in the group stages; all four previous encounters took place in the semis (Euro 1984, Euro 2000, World Cup 2006) or final (Euro 2016). France won the first three while Portugal came out victors in the Euro 2016 showpiece match.
– Following their 1-1 draw with Hungary on MD2, France have avoided defeat in more matches when trailing at half-time than any other team in European Championship history (six – W4 D2).
– France are unbeaten in each of their past 11 group stage games at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), winning seven and drawing four. However, each of their past three MD3 group games in these tournaments have ended level (D3).
– Last time out versus Germany (4-2), Portugal became the first reigning champions in European Championship history to concede four goals in a single match in the competition. Indeed, Portugal had never conceded four goals in a single European Championship match before facing Germany on MD2.
– Portugal have lost two of their past three matches at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros), one more than they had lost in the previous 17 such games combined (W8 D8 L1). They last lost consecutive such matches within a single tournament at Euro 2008.

Pepe has urged Portugal to show the same hunger for victory against world champions France as they were subjected to against Germany last weekend.

Holders Portugal face the prospect of their Euro 2020 campaign ending at the group stage, with a positive result against Didier Deschamps' world champions on Wednesday their target to guarantee progress, although a narrow defeat could still see them progress as one of the four best third-placed teams.

The good work from an opening 3-0 win over Hungary was undone in a 4-2 defeat to Germany in Munich, when a usually obdurate Portugal defence was repeatedly undone as Joachim Low's 3-4-3 system granted his team numerical superiority in attack.

Left wing-back Robin Gosens tormented Portugal right-back Nelson Semedo and contributed an assist and a goal after half-time, as the Selecao became the first defending European champions to concede four goals in a single match at the competition.

However, it was the excitement that Atalanta player Gosens showed when Germany won corners that caught veteran centre-back Pepe's eye.

"Against Germany, I have a very clear picture in my mind. Whenever the left full-back got a corner, they were very happy," Pepe said.

"That shows how much they wanted to beat us. We have to want it as much as Germany did in order to make it through and achieve our goals.

"When we win we all win, when we lose we all lose. That's what makes us a very strong, cohesive group.

"We need to have our lines closer together, we need to support each other. Over the last few years we've shown what Portugal is like, we have good quality players and all work together."

Head coach Fernando Santos echoed Pepe's sentiments, acknowledging his side lacked their usual balance between attack and defence last time out.

"We did a thorough analysis of the game and looked at what we could have done better. I think we all reached a similar type of conclusion," Santos said. "It wasn't our usual type of game, it wasn't the Portuguese style.

"The crucial element in the game is to balance the team, it's not about the best or the worst. Every single team on Earth can be aggressive and supportive of one another.

"We know that France will play like this, We need to fight more, want it more and be more organised than they are.

"If we put our quality out there and they do, then it can swing either way. We need to be very focused and very strong in every area of the pitch and every moment of the game."

Santos pledged not to make wholesale changes, while acknowledging the quick turnaround in games and high temperatures in Budapest have had a sapping effect.

In terms of strategy, the veteran tactician stated it was important to right the wrong of his team's Munich missteps.

"As for changes, I could change every single player – I'm joking, of course! It's not about changing everyone," he added.

"We played four at the back and we were fully aware that we were under-manned. Against lower-ranked teams we can attack with more people and our midfielders play differently than the German midfielders.

"France play up front with three very mobile players. Benzema and Griezmann are very mobile players. In the last third we will have four against three, sometimes we will have four against four.

"We're focused. If we play a very intensive game, with the right kind of focus, play out from the back and make the opponent run, then I think we have a very good chance of winning."

When Cristiano Ronaldo limped out of the Euro 2016 final, Portugal had to bide their time and turn towards an unlikely hero.

Eder, a flop in the Premier League with Swansea City who had been sent out on loan to Lille, enjoyed the most memorable moment of his time in France – and, indeed, his career – when he drove home a brilliant winner to down the hosts 1-0 in extra time at the Stade de France.

It felt like an entirely fitting way for Fernando Santos' team to win a tournament they slogged their way through.

Quickfire goals from Ronaldo and Nani early in the second half of a 2-0 semi-final win over Wales accounted for Portugal's only victory inside 90 minutes.

There were three draws during the group stage, including a 0-0 scoreline remaining intact when their talisman missed a penalty against Austria. The last-16 encounter with Croatia also reached full-time goalless before Ricardo Quaresma struck during the additional period.  

 

Quaresma and Nani provided dutiful support as their careers at the top level ticked down, but the cupboard was fairly bare for Santos once injury struck during the first half in Paris and Ronaldo was reduced to barking encouragement and instructions from the touchline.

Should a similar fate befall Portugal's all-time leading scorer this time around, the replacement goal threat would not be so obscure.

In Andre Silva, there is a natural stand-in at centre-forward, buoyed by 28 goals in 32 Bundesliga outings for Eintracht Frankfurt this season.

The burden could also be shouldered by Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes, an ideal candidate for penalty duties, while Diogo Jota's threat would remain.

Let's not forget that Bernardo Silva played a decent amount of Manchester City's triumphant Premier League title campaign and run to the Champions League final as a false nine, while Joao Felix remains an outstanding talent despite not yet justifying his €126million transfer fee to Atletico Madrid.

None of that quintet were involved at Euro 2016.

 

In short, Santos now has a squad overflowing with attacking firepower, having masterminded a route to glory when such options were far more scarce – save for one ludicrously prolific exception – five years ago.

However, as they prepare to face Germany, they remain a target for some of the criticism that came France's way after their opening 1-0 win in Munich.

Like Didier Deschamps, Santos has been accused of lacking imagination, providing a solid base for his attacking creatives and not much else.

"We are different from France. Let's see what Germany does and we'll try to control Germany too. One thing's for certain, we have to have a ball," Santos told reporters on Friday, insisting his team would look to take the initiative.

"We are not going to defend man to man. We're going to maintain our defensive pattern to be able to have the ball, as we did against Hungary, whom we forced to run."

 

The Hungary game was goalless until the 84th minute, as Ronaldo bagged a brace and superior quality – along with all that enforced running – eventually told in a 3-0 win.

But, with two heavyweight encounters to come before the end of the group stage, the question remains over whether Santos can make his team of winners a team people love to see win.

In the period from the end of the Euro 2012 up until their trudging triumph in 2016, per game Portugal averaged 1.6 goals form 17.2 shots and 5.9 on target at a shot conversion rate of 9.5 per cent.

Since Euro 2016, all of those numbers are up. They average 2.3 goals per game, 18.1 shots and 6.6 on target, converting 12.7 per cent. Their passing accuracy has improved from 83.2 per cent to 86 per cent, while an average of 172.9 passes ending in the final third in every match – up from 145.7 – also suggests a more progressive approach.

Far from waiting around for things to happen, Portugal imposed themselves against Hungary and a partisan Budapest crowd, enjoying 70 per cent possession and making 19 high turnovers – ranking them third overall in the tournament for teams winning the ball back 40 metres from the opposition goal, despite being one of sixes sides to have only played once so far.

 

For context, Santos' men made 27 high turnovers over the course of their six matches in France five years ago.

Ronaldo is reaping the benefit of this increased output of the attacking unit around him. Six of his nine international hat-tricks have come since lifting the European Championship.

If Portugal and the affable curmudgeon Santos are to mimic their neighbours Spain, who went back-to-back in 2008 and 2012, they might just capture hearts and minds along with winners' medals this time around.

Fernando Santos is well aware of the threats possessed by Germany but insists Portugal will not go into Saturday's clash just looking to negate their opponents' strengths.

Portugal began their Euro 2020 defence with a 3-0 win over Hungary on Tuesday though it arguably was not as clear-cut as the scoreline suggested, with all three goals coming in the final 10 minutes - a European Championship first.

Nevertheless, it was a vital late flurry given matches against Germany and France await in Group F, their meeting with Die Mannschaft on Saturday practically a must-win for Joachim Low's men after their 1-0 defeat to Les Bleus.

France's set-up against the Germans seemed to raise eyebrows due to the level of their pragmatism – their average starting position of 32.8 metres from their own goal is the second-lowest at the tournament so far, highlighting how Didier Deschamps' men looked to absorb pressure.

 

Similarly, France showed very little willingness to press, particularly in advanced areas. On average they allowed Germany 55 passes before initiating a defensive action outside of their own defensive third, 22.7 more than any other team, which shows just how extreme Les Blues' counterattacking approach was.

France restricted Germany to just one shot on target, though it seems Portugal will not be looking to implement similar tactics.

"Portugal and Germany are two very strong teams," Santos told reporters on Friday. "Just count the number of German players who were in the Champions League final.

"Germany really wants to have the ball, to be a steamroller and push the opponent back. Afterwards, they attack with depth, but from closer [to goal] rather than in counterattacks.

 

"But they will also have to adapt to us. We are different from France. Let's see what Germany does and we'll try to control Germany too. One thing's for certain, we have to have a ball.

"We are not going to defend man to man. We're going to maintain our defensive pattern to be able to have the ball, as we did against Hungary, whom we forced to run.

"I don't know what Joachim [Low] is going to do. Germany has been oscillating between the two ways of playing [back three and back four].

"He has lined up with four in defence, where one of them was [Emre] Can and three in midfield, and more recently he has gone back to three at the back, with two in midfield and three forwards.

"If we pay attention, the game against France already showed nuances, with [Joshua] Kimmich more in midfield and [Matthias] Ginter on the right in the second half. Our players know this, they have already been warned about it."

 

Ruben Dias says Portugal are not getting carried away after making a winning start.

"We're up against a high-level team, one of the best at the European Championship," he said. "Although we started the Euros very well, we need to keep our feet on the ground, take what there is to take out, but also understand that we have to be better [than against Hungary] to win this game."

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