A big final is the last place to look for tactical sparkle; there is far too much at stake.
It takes a relentlessly brave, exceptionally smart manager to appreciate the competitive advantage novelty can confer. For all of Fernando Santos and Didier Deschamps’s qualities, imagination isn’t either's strongest suit.
But this isn’t to say Sunday’s final was without intrigue. Until Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury, France pressed high up the pitch with an intensity that harried Portugal into repeatedly conceding the ball. The host looked so menacing during this period that it was baffling the ploy was abandoned after Ronaldo limped off.
This played right into Portugal’s hands: forced to realign the midfield diamond into a left-dominant 4-1-4-1, Santos’s men benefited from France’s back six and front four disconnecting.
To put this in context, consider that Antonio Conte’s Italy — widely seen as a conservative unit — attacked with five and defended with five.
With Paul Pogba far too deep in the double pivot, it was left to Antoine Griezmann to link play and Moussa Sissoko to drive forward. But there wasn’t enough in the final third.
Indeed all but one of France’s clear-cut chances came after a full-back had made a supporting, overlapping run; yet Deschamps was loathe to attack with more than four.
Against Germany, France had managed, from time to time, to bypass the midfield. Although centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Samuel Umtiti picked out a number of
direct vertical passes on Sunday, Portugal’s deep-sitting midfield swarmed the receiver, allowing him little time to lay it off. When France went aerial, Pepe won important headers in Portugal’s box.
Having shut France out with industry and more than a little fortune, Portugal sealed it with about 15 minutes to go. Referee Mark Clattenburg’s incorrect decision to book Koscielny for a hand-ball — when substitute striker Eder had touched it — created the circumstances for the match-winner.
Raphael Guerreiro may have hit the woodwork with the free-kick, but France couldn’t get out of its half. Then Eder, who looked strong against a tiring defence, eluded Koscielny, who might have fouled him if not on a yellow, to score from distance.
Perhaps the introduction of Eder was an inspired touch after all; certainly no one will grudge Santos claiming it was.