Portugal spirit cheers Santos as Belgium lie in wait

Portugal spirit cheers Santos as Belgium lie in wait

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.”

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