Football
19 days ago

France beat Portugal in shootout to reach semis

France players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout
France players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout Photo : Reuters

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France converted all their kicks in a shootout to edge Portugal 5-3 on penalties after a goalless stalemate in their European Championship quarter-final on Friday, likely bringing the curtain down on Cristiano Ronaldo's international career.

Theo Hernandez stroked home the winning kick for a perfect sequence after Joao Felix’s effort, the third for Portugal, hit the post. France will now play Spain in the semi-finals on Tuesday in Munich, as per Reuters reports.

Defeat for Portugal is set to spell the end of the 21-year international career of 39-year-old Ronaldo, who converted their first kick in the shootout but was also responsible for one of the night’s many glaring misses.

Success for France makes up for shootout heartbreak at the last Euros, when they were eliminated by Switzerland in the round of 16, and in the 2022 World Cup final against Argentina.

Ousmane Dembele, Youssouf Fofana, Jules Kounde and Bradley Barcola all netted their spot kicks for victorious France.

A game that was slow in firing up ended with a myriad of missed opportunities at either end, with clear chances for both sides in 90 minutes as well as the half hour of extra time.

France now find themselves in the semis without scoring in open play at the tournament, having benefitted from two own goals and a penalty in their previous four games.

But the French have also not conceded in open play at Euro 2024 with goalkeeper Mike Maignan making two key saves in Friday's match that proved key for his side.

CAUTIOUS START

Both teams started cautiously, intent on keeping possession and avoiding mistakes. The play was therefore often pedestrian with only periodic bursts of action.

It took 16 minutes before the first shot was fired off in anger – Bruno Fernandes’ effort hitting Hernandez and deflecting away for a corner.

Soon after the second half kicked off, the contest rose from its slumber.

A rare contribution from the masked Kylian Mbappe was a clever combination with N'Golo Kante that produced a rapid fire shot, swallowed up by goalkeeper Diogo Costa. France's captain Mbappe had another off night in attack.

Within minutes, Hernandez’s square ball from the left beat the Portuguese defence as it went invitingly across goal, crying out for a tap-in but with no one to meet it.

Maignan then made two crucial saves in the space of three minutes – a stiff arm reaction to deny Fernandes on the hour, followed by a point blank stop from Vitinha after another of Rafael Leao’s probing runs.

MENTAL STRENGTH

"We knew it was going to be a tough game but we were solid in defence and we had a lot of mental strength and kept our cool during the shootout, that's what made the difference," Maignan said.

In the 67th minute, a quick break from Randal Kolo Muani, in tandem with Kounde, had the striker in on goal but Ruben Dias made a goal-saving tackle.

France’s profligacy continued straight afterwards when substitute Dembele’s trickery teed up Eduardo Camavinga but the young midfielder inexplicably spurned the chance from close range.

"You wonder what would have happened if we had scored goals. The opponent wasn't that efficient either," added France coach Didier Deschamps.

"But you're not telling me that we don't deserve our place in the semi-final. But I would prefer to have a team that's more efficient in goalscoring."

The worst miss, however, belonged to Ronaldo three minutes into extra time as Francisco Conceicao’s enterprise saw him cut in on the byline and pull the ball back for his captain to deliver a fairytale finish but the forward fluffed his lines.

Ronaldo's future with Portugal after 212 caps and 130 goals now looks at an end. He was in the Portuguese side that beat France in the Euro 2016 final in Paris, although he went off early with injury and had to urge them on from the sidelines.

Also likely to be over is the international career of 41-year-old centre back Pepe, the oldest player to appear at the Euros.

"Football is cruel ... and sadness is part of it. We were aiming to win for our country and bring joy to our people," said Pepe, who made some outstanding tackles. "Five days ago we won on penalties and now we've lost on penalties."

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