After living with criticism of his team’s playing style all through the tournament, Portugal coach Fernando Santos would like nothing more than to win the Euro 2016 final without deserving it.
Portugal muddled through the group stage with three draws, downed Croatia with a last-gasp extra-time winner and got past Poland on penalties before beating Wales 2-0 in the semi-final.
They face France in Sunday’s final having shown only flashes of inspiration, instead relying on tactical discipline and determination to pull them through. For Santos, however, criticism of their performances is like water off a duck’s back.
“Let them continue saying the same thing, that Portugal won without deserving it,” Santos, whose news conferences are littered with dry humour, told reporters on Saturday. “I would go home really happy.”
Santos said he always believed Portugal would win the tournament and he was sticking to his guns, even though he recognised that France were favourites.
“Now they are in the final and playing at home, France are the favourites. But it’s one thing to be favourites and another to win and I believe that Portugal will win,” he said.
France have won their last 10 meetings with Portugal since 1975, including the 1984 and 2000 European Championship semi-finals and the 2006 World Cup semi-final.
But Santos, as usual, had a quick response up his sleeve.
“There has never been a Portugal-France final, this history is in semi-finals and I believe Portugal will make history in the final,” he said.
“These are all numbers, statistics, which bring nothing to tomorrow’s game,” he added.
“Nobody will be thinking about this, neither on the France or Portugal sides. If one team or another has won more games, or drawn.... these are numbers which coaches and players put to one side.”
Santos pointed out that Portugal had found the right blend of youth and experience, plus a winning mentality.
“Experience is very important but you need something new, something fresh, this is what the young players bring,” he said. “But they bring quality and the natural irreverence of youth and this is very important.
“Fortunately, I have some winners here, because someone who hasn’t won anything doesn’t know what it’s like and hasn’t got the taste for it.... and there are some here with a tremendous taste for winning.”