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Cristiano Ronaldo swapping Real for Juventus? Not so fast

Cristiano Ronaldo

Did Portugal deserve to win Euro 2016 by winning one game in 90 minutes?

Portugal beat France 1-0 in extra time to claim the Euro 2016 title -- the first major trophy in their history -- but there has been a backlash against them for the "anti-football" they played throughout the tournament. So, do they deserve it? Nick Ames and Jonathan Molyneux-Carter argue the case for each side.

Is criticism over Portugal's defensive tactics justified?

NA: I think we should get one thing clear -- Portugal were not quite as defensive as the prevailing narrative makes them seem. Their approach wasn't pretty, but we're in danger these days of turning our noses up at anything that doesn't at least vaguely resemble full-throttle Barcelona. There was plenty of intent in the group stage -- as there should have been against smaller opposition -- and I think two things happened after that. One is that after cheap goals were conceded against Iceland and Hungary, Portugal manager Fernando Santos felt he needed to tighten things up a bit; another is that their next opponents were Croatia, who would have won the tie comfortably if they had been at their best and Portugal had defended as they did in the group stage.

Portugal locked that game down very well and did the necessary job even though it was terrible to watch. I think that game coloured perceptions more than anything else and helps explain the backlash. In the end, teams that do well in tournaments adapt to the different challenges they face; you have to be nimble and willing to think short-term, and Portugal did that brilliantly.

JMC: The "beautiful game" is called that for a reason, and Santos should be ashamed that he can put together a team full of such stars as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Joao Moutinho and yet still produce football that would send the majority to sleep. I never thought football fans would be pleading for a striker like Nuno Gomes to be on the pitch, but by failing to install a central striker, Santos effectively stunted two of his two best players. Playing wingers Ronaldo and Nani up front just felt wrong, and it didn't work. Eder's vital introduction in the final proved that.

Does too much depend on Ronaldo?

NA: They certainly needed him when things got tough against Hungary, and you can't discount the header that got everything going against Wales. But the answer to that question was confirmed in the final, when Portugal had a few strokes of luck but were generally quite comfortable in his absence, playing intelligently and scoring with a classic sucker punch.

One of the best things about Portugal this summer was precisely the fact that players other than Ronaldo stepped up when needed: We saw rather unlikely figures such as Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Eder make important attacking interventions; Pepe was a rock at the back; Adrien Silva and William Carvalho were tireless in midfield. The most impressive -- and perhaps surprising -- thing about Ronaldo during this tournament was the conscientious and sensitive way in which he led these players. We cannot say that this was a one-man show on the pitch.

JMC: We can, because he wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, Ronaldo took so much of the spotlight that it's a valid to wonder if they'd play better without him. The 0-0 draw against Austria was a perfect example of a country that was simply far too reliant on him to do something. Portugal feed his own ego, too, and the sight of him lining up free kicks to shoot on goal the moment the ball was in the opposition half was laughable. In the final, they proved they can play without him and lessons must be learnt for the benefit of the team.

Is it right that you can win the Euros by winning only one game in 90 minutes?

NA: You have 120 minutes to win the game in the knockout stages, so I don't really see the problem; it was all within the rules, and they only won once on penalties. It's more pertinent to point out that they won three of their last four games outright. Again, it's about using what you have in the appropriate way against different opposition. You play the situation. That's what Portugal did, and I don't think anyone can argue with what they achieved from the round of 16 onwards.

JMC: It's crazy. Only once did Portugal look prepared to try and score first, and that was against Wales in the semifinals -- we can't really count their three goals against Hungary because their hands were forced by an excellent Hungarian attack. Portugal fans won't care -- given the trophy is in their team's hands -- but the country has lost a lot of neutral supporters with the dirge they put on show during this tournament.It's not their fault in that they did what they had to do, but the fact above takes the shine off their success.

And what about finishing third in the group? Have they just befitted from the new format?

NA: There is definitely something in that, although things might have played out a little differently had they needed to finish second. It was noticeable that they and Hungary both slowed things down in the final 20 minutes of their 3-3 draw, with both teams having achieved what they needed to. The way things had panned out to that point, there was definitely another goal or two in that one. I'd probably be asking more questions if they'd got through with a win and two defeats; at least they were unbeaten in the tournament and rarely in too much trouble aside from the Hungary game.

JMC: If the ridiculous 24-team format had been the old 16-team style, Portugal wouldn't have won. And deservedly so. A lot of things have been suggested to liven up the next tournament, but axing the confusing permutations for third place and making sure that more than eight teams go home after the group stage is important. Many people have praised the likes of Wales and Iceland for sealing progress, but they did so by finishing in first and second place, respectively.

Germany won their group but had to play Slovakia, Italy and France; Portugal finished third but lucked out by getting Croatia, Poland and Wales before the final. Work that one out.

Do they stand a chance of winning the World Cup now?

NA: Let's not go too far. They should qualify from a group in which Switzerland and Hungary are the only possible challengers, but the team may look rather different come 2018. For starters, Pepe will be 35 and Ronaldo, who is certainly having to adapt his game as he ages, will be 33. Much will depend on how their younger players, such as Renato Sanches and the excellent left-back Raphael Guerreiro, kick on. There's certainly plenty of talent coming through, but it's too early to say whether they can challenge.

Playing in next year's Confederations Cup will benefit their development, though, and may provide a clue or two as to their potential.

JMC: Ronaldo will be old (by football's standards) by the time Russia rolls around, and they will struggle against Switzerland and Hungary in their qualifying group. The Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra are also there, but there will be no reward for finishing third this time around. Given how much Switzerland and Hungary impressed during the Euros, unless Portugal somehow unearth another couple of star players before 2018, there's a big chance they won't even be there at all.

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