PARIS (Reuters) - Portugal continue to be a paradox at Euro 2016, reaching the semi-finals without ever giving the kind of uplifting performance that their talented team should be capable of.
Coach Fernando Santos was naturally delighted after his side overcame Poland on penalties in the quarter-finals after a 1-1 draw, yet, as far as the neutrals were concerned, it was another soporific display.
Portugal’s progress to the semi-finals, without winning a match inside 90 minutes, has drawn parallels with the Paraguay team who managed to reach the 2011 Copa America final by drawing every game.
The only difference was that Portugal at least managed to beat Croatia 1-0 after extra-time in the second round while Paraguay won both their knockout games at the Copa on penalty shootouts before coming a cropper in the final against Uruguay which they lost 3-0.
It some ways, it seems harsh to criticise a Portugal team whose recent record at the European championship puts many bigger countries to shame.
The Portuguese have reached the quarter-finals on all seven occasions they have taken part and in the last five tournaments have reached the final once and the semi-finals three times.
But there has been something strangely unsatisfying, and even exasperating, about their performances at Euro 2016.
Their style of play is not especially defensive, they do not commit more fouls than anyone else and their average of 19 goal attempts per game is the fourth highest at the tournament.
On the other hand, their second-round tie against Croatia was dire and the second hour of the match against Poland lulled Marseille’s Stade Velodrome into near silence.
It has been pretty much the same story since the amiable Santos took over in September 2014, having led Greece to the last 16 at the World Cup.
Portugal are unbeaten in 12 competitive matches under his leadership but their nine wins during that period have all been by single goal margins.
Their line-up suggests they should be capable of more. Three-times world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, former Manchester United winger Nani, mercurial forward Ricardo Quaresma and midfielder Joao Moutinho have shown only the odd flash of their abilities.
Instead, Portugal have become a team who are difficult to beat, even more difficult to watch, and the talk after matches is invariably about unity, hard work and commitment.
They are also clinical in penalty shootouts and converted all five spot-kicks against Poland.
“We are a team with great character. I continue to say I’m only going home on 11 July,” said Santos, who has insisted since the start that Portugal will reach the final on July 10.
“You need to have courage to take penalties in a shootout, you need to have personality and cold blood, and the players had that.”
Ronaldo was equally upbeat.
“Maybe nobody gave much for our chances but we are now in the semi-finals,” he said. “It was a very important win, the team took the penalties well and fought hard. We are in the semi-finals and now anything in possible.”
Editing by Ed Osmond