The date: July 10th, 2016. The venue: Saint Denis, France. Can you remember where you were when Portugal won Euro 2016? Take an opportunity to savor the memories of one year ago today when Eder crashed home the goal that secured Portugal's first ever major tournament silverware.

PortuGOAL.net invites you to leave a comment below on where you were and how you reacted to the greatest of Portuguese exploits on a football pitch.

Meanwhile, for Fernando Santos and co. it is back to the drawing board after the penalty kick shootout defeat to Chile in the Confederations Cup. In an analytical piece that dabbles in a little bit of everything from human psychology to football tactics, join lead Seleção correspondent Nathan Motz as he tries to make sense of the historic gap into which Portugal has fallen in 2017: between one glorious chapter and the prospect of even greater renown next summer.

It still does not quite seem real. Today marks the one year anniversary of that blessed occasion when Portugal overcame all obstacles and won the European Championship. I really wish I had been there for the final, but how can I possibly complain? I spent 17 wonderful days traveling across France, recording the journey that Portugal took on its path to a sporting achievement that seemed so unrealistic.

Euro 2016 was chastised by much of the international football community as a tournament of poor quality. Perhaps that is true from the perspective of those loyal to the other nations represented, but to fans of Portugal the tournament brought to life the story of an oft-maligned, discounted, and unfashionable underdog that turned the script on its head in every possible way.

When they said we ought to run away with our group, we narrowly finished third. When they said we could not win games in 90 minutes, we simply won them in 120. When accused of over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo we were forced to win entirely without him in the final, and against the host nation no less. And we did all of that playing exactly the type of football that no one would have ever anticipated from Portugal. More on that later.

The passage of time enhances perspective. A year ago, many highly touted journalists and pundits were still trying to figure out exactly who the likes of João Mário and Raphael Guerreiro were. Now it is clearer to me than ever that Portugal’s greatest ever assembly of talent was initiated in France. It is a process that continues to build momentum with the addition of more prodigiously skillful players such as Bernardo Silva.

Can I confess that as beautiful as it was to see Portugal lift that trophy all I could think about was the future and what else this very special team might accomplish? I summoned the courage to write about it in one of my post tournament articles. The dream that nobody wants to say out loud for fear that it might escape. But join me for a moment as I once again articulate that dream. The possibility that the same core of players who were victorious in France might actually achieve something even greater in Russia 12 months from now.

A year removed. From both glory attained and from destiny awaiting. My how much can change in a year. From that mythical high point 12 months ago Portugal now face the most crucial of post-defeat recovery periods, and it is not only about beating Switzerland to that automatic qualification berth. How Fernando Santos and this group of players responds to the failure of its recent Confederations Cup campaign will determine where they will be 12 months from now. In a World Cup semifinal, or at home defeated once again.

Failure is both life’s most effective and most frequently avoided teacher. It is a mechanism that forces rebirth, remodeling, regrouping, or in some cases revolution. That failure is so feared and despised is almost paradoxical at times given its capacity to eliminate the dynamics that led to its existence in the first place.

I would like to make one thing clear from the onset: this is not an effort to claim or celebrate moral victories. On the contrary, it must be said Portugal was fairly beaten despite fielding its best available squad, injuries to key players notwithstanding. We lost, and now we must give failure permission to become our teacher. As I have alluded to already, Portugal head into next summer’s football showpiece with quite possibly the most realistic chance they have ever had to secure victory. In all likelihood it will be the best chance Portugal have to win a World Cup in my lifetime.

Portugal’s demise at the hands of Chile got me thinking about the science of failure. Yes it is true that in football, as well as in life, there are unpredictable moments that cannot be accounted for that lead to failure. But there are often persistent themes that can be analyzed and understood such that the lessons learned would ideally prevent failures of a similar type in the future. Not so complex, is it? The problem is, both people and football teams alike rarely consider the way in which their own individual strategies contributed to a failure of some sort. They simply blunder on convinced that their methods will eventually yield a previously unattainable success. From the perspective of human psychology, the technical description for the phenomenon of rejecting one's own role in an act of failure is known as “error blindness.”

This model described the Bento era post-Euro 2012. Portugal fans know the sad story all too well. Using the same starting XI and same tactics as he did in Ukraine/Poland, Bento fielded an out-of-shape, out-of-form squad that capitulated in the summer heat of Brazil in 2014. Acknowledging errors committed was simply not in Bento's repertoire. With respect to football managers in the elite echelons of the game, he is hardly alone with these sentiments.

But what if instead we understood the acknowledgement of error as simply the moment that we became smarter than we once were? Because in truth that is exactly what it is. To accept that mistakes were made is the beginning of a process that can result in a much more intelligent and effective outlook on a given situation.

That the single-minded Paulo Bento preceded Fernando Santos makes the reign of the grimacing, cigarette smoking pragmatist appear that much more extraordinary. Beneath our very eyes Santos accomplished something with the Seleção that had not been previously attempted. He grafted them into a tough, unrelenting squad that sapped the will of their opponents. He altered Portugal’s traditional fate of waltzing their way through tournaments only to be denied at the critical moment.

But now Santos himself is at a critical juncture. Will he, like many a footballing manager before him, conveniently sidestep the glaringly obvious lessons learned from failure? Or can he exploit them to their maximum advantage on the world’s biggest stage?

Much has already been said about Portugal’s Confederations Cup campaign. The poor team selection for the first match against Mexico. The tactical missteps throughout. But I have also noticed a tendency amongst Portugal fans to exercise what I will call the “antithetical bias.”

We observe a struggling player or inept tactic and almost instantaneously reach the biased conclusion that only the exact polar opposite can remedy the problem. For example, Nani is old, slow, and cannot score, so the young, fast, and clinical Bruma should be called up instead. Or, Portugal play too defensively, and would do better to reorganize the squad to play attack-minded football with reckless abandon. We are frustrated, and demand for a comprehensive reverse in direction. It is binary thinking. It assumes there are only two options, and since the wrong one was initially chosen the answer must be to select the only other alternative, the polar opposite.

Before anyone mischaracterizes my assertions and suggests that I am unwilling to recognize the obvious, consider this: failure is as equally adept at providing wisdom as it is at spreading delusion. Portugal do not need a radical, polar opposite overhaul in their approach. They simply need an adaptation to what worked so well for them at the Euros last summer. It is quite true that this adaptation will require changes in personnel, but my point is that merely instituting a plug-and-play mentality with certain players is not sufficient. Despite how it may have appeared, Nani and André Gomes were not the only reasons we lost to Chile. 

Of all the lessons that Portugal must surely learn from the Confederations Cup, it is that slow football is dead football. It is encouraging that Portugal ratcheted up the tempo as the tournament progressed, but we still need to remember that the natural consequence of compact, defensive tactics can often be sluggish passing and ponderous movement.

But this is where we as fans are again inclined to believe that the solution must be to radically alter our style of play and channel the swashbuckling Portugal of old. My case is that if we did that we would encounter the same negative results as the Portugal of old.

Instead, we need to supercharge the manner in which we remain in control of matches. Compact defence is essential for championship winning sides. There exists bountiful data to prove this. We need to continue prioritizing defensive organization while adding a vigorous injection of speed into our passing cadence. And it must always be purposeful. Mazy runs across the length of the pitch, shooting from distance, and technical flair are easy on the eye, but disguise the reality that this style of play is readily undone by organized defences.

At Euro 2016, I admit to being a bit confused when José Fonte talked to me about Renato Sanches being “an energy player.” At the time I thought he had simply phrased that assessment in a way that does not really make sense in English. Now I know that there really was not a better way to describe Renato’s style of play. Since then, the youngster has lost his way, but for me he embodied the manner of raw energy that would vitalize our playing style without sacrificing its organization. We needed him one year ago, and we will need him just as much one year from now.

Bernardo Silva’s intelligent pressing has also been proven to be essential, and Joao Mario’s vertical runs into the attacking third were sorely missed this summer. But it is sentimentality that is the greatest threat to this team’s capacity to install a robust, dynamic style of play.

In terms of squad selection, even repeated failures may have difficulty dislodging a particularly fond memory of a certain player. For at least some of the heroes of Euro 2016 it is true that their best playing days are behind them. Will Santos be willing to make hard choices and cut some of these players in order to create an even more formidable squad?

We need players who adhere to a disciplined set of rules for their respective positions, but are capable of applying a real turn of pace when the situation requires. Even though the knee-jerk removal of certain players like André Gomes will not fix all of our problems it remains the case that this next club season needs to be viewed by each potential member of this squad as a pass-or-fail trial period. No points awarded for seniority. Prior achievement must no longer act as a substitute for present form. The conclusive evidence for this folly is already on the table.

In the coming year there are many unknowns. Will our best players be able to maintain or in some cases recover the quality of club form that propelled them into Euro 2016? Will André Silva and Bernardo wilt under the bright lights and high drama of Milan and Manchester respectively? Will Cristiano Ronaldo, at the age of 33, be ready and able to spearhead the Portuguese armada as they embark on one final quest under his leadership to conquer the world?

To our pragmatism we must add speed of thought and violence of action, and just that group of players willing and able to embody those core tenets on the pitch. Come next July, may it be that the euphoric delirium of last summer’s victory be repeated because we were enlightened by the bitter taste of this summer’s defeat.

Força Seleção.

by Nathan Motz

  

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  • Guest - Nelson Oliveira

    I was visiting my parents' house, as I often do on big matchdays. I was getting emotionally ready to watch a defeat. I mean, Portugal were playing the heavily favored hosts in the final. The same country that knocked it out of two major tournaments. There was no way they could win. Then Cristiano goes down early, and I was furious. Like in the Battle of Nuremberg, an early challenge takes him out of the game. Once again in a major tournament, Portugal gets the short end of the stick. They don't even get a chance to compete for 90 minutes and lose valiantly, I said to myself. Portugal, stripped of their talisman, will melt down as they always do. But as the match went on, France grew wary. We hadn't lost our mettle. We limited France's opportunities. The French seemed possessed between a confusion as why they couldn't break through and an arrogance that the winner would surely come eventually. But it didn't. Heading into overtime, there was a glimmer of hope. If Portugal could just hold on, they can win this on penalties. Then Eder gets the ball in a decent position but without support and just smacks it. Takes a shot from a distance that almost always results in a miss or a save. Lloris must have been caught off guard, surely I was. My father, who had left to avoid the nerveracking emotion, returned right after the game finished and asked who won. He didn't believe it, I almost still don't.

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  • What a great day! I had a good feeling, we had nothing to lose. France had it all to lose and the pressure was all on them to win. The reverse of the 2004 final.

    We were playing badly before Ronaldo went off, he barely touched the ball. When he went off I thought the team would lift and it did. I still think if he played we would most likely not have won the game.

    Can't believe it's been a year

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  • Great article, Nathan - thanks. Almost by the way you point out where the way of development for the Portuguese national team should go: Not direction past, back to beautiful but ineffective football. The aim of the seleçao has to be the total control of the game. Partly, they already do that pretty well, but there is still a lot room for improvement. Maybe not nice for others to watch, but I hope that mid term everyone interested into football will predict Portugal games as games where the opponents have few to no chances to score and always concede one or more... Due to the very high technical and tactical standards of the most players, they should be able to adapt to almost every tactics and opponent. Please be kind to us and keep our blood pressure low, guys. Switching to attacking mode should then be characterized by very accurate and very fast passing game into the final third. It is not necessarily counter-football. It can be 6-10 passes as well - it is just about dominating all areas of the pitch and changing the tempo when ever you like. Bernardo Silva, João Mario and Renato Sanches would be 3 very different players and all of them able to drive fast transition, but everyone of them with another style. What a weapon. The problem is, that only one of those three is on a promising way at the moment and two are pushed aside in their clubs. That's a serious problem. Another important point when controlling and calming down the game constantly and then attack with fast combinations and accurate passes is, that you have to be absolutely clinical in front of the goal. And there is huge question mark, when I see André Silva's move to AC Milan. I hope it will go well for him, but if he'll sit on the bench there - who will be the second striker besides Cristiano? Anyway: Please first qualify for the WC, Portugal. All focus on the remaining matches. I don't worry too much about the last game against Switzerland. What I want to see before is the 3 wins against Färöer, Hungary and Andorra. If Portugal wins all these 3 matches (particularly Hungary away can be a very tricky one), then I have no doubt, that the seleçao will smash the Swiss in an epic way. In the Estadio da Luz filled with a noisy crowd, I don't give Switzerland to much credit. Of course they are a good team, but I just don't see Portugal failing in that "final". Besides all past joy of 2016, worries and predictions about the future, let me state: A country which reached 1 quarter final, 2 semi finals, 2 finals (with one won) in the last 5 consecutive Euros is definitely a European football-superpower.

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  • Guest - Arnaldo

    The only thing we failed to do at the Confedertion's Cup was score enough. Had we won on PKs we would have given abetter account against Germany than the Chileans

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  • Guest - dustin

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    I was so nervous throughout this entire tournament, this was the first time since 2004 an 2006 that I thought we could actually win the tournament. I was a bundle of nerves in that Croatia game, was in and out of the pub bathroom about 20 times (nervous pees!). The Poland penalties I couldn't even watch, I stood on my balcony and listened and celebrated when I heard Rui's save. I then calmly walked in and watched Quaresma send us to the semi finals.

    In the finals again I was a bundle of nevers, this was the first tournament I almost couldn't enjoy in a sense because I was so nervous watching the games in the knockout phase. In an out of the bathroom, I was actually in the bathroom when I heard everyone in my family celebrating. I raised my fists calmly alone in the bathroom, said a prayer and came out with my heard beating out of my chest for the next 12 minutes or so before the end of the game. It was such relief when we won, I am only 31 but I wasn't sure if I would ever see Portugal win a title, now that the first tournament win has happened I feel I can now enjoy the games......although I didn't watch the penalties versus Chile as I was too nervous. I am so proud of the team and I really feel like next year is our best chance ever to win a world cup.

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  • Growing up, my Father and I always watched footy together. In canada, in the '90's, we were lucky to watch the Serie A peppered with starts like Costacurta, Vieri, Ravanelli and Viali.

    As I got older, I became distracted by other things but my Father was steadfast in his admiration for the game. We would watch the occasional Porto game at the bar but that was it.

    I began watching with him again as a teen/young adult in the early 2000's so the Porto Europa and Champions league titles were part of my history. Euro 2004 marked a very real chance of victory which only ended up in defeat.

    In some way, Portuguese soccer, club or at the national level was but one of many things that I shared with my Father.

    Euro 2016 was the first tournament I watched without him. And the irony is, the first tournament that I didn't care and almost couldn't watch because of the pain of missing him.

    So like many of you, I watched the games, but for the first time in my life I didn't care. It didn't matter.

    I supported the Seleccao, always, but it just felt like a trip you went on alone and kept wishing your best friend could be with you.

    On the day of the final, I was in Portugal, with family and as I watched the game with my own kids, the weight of how I felt throughout the tournament came off. I know that my Father was watching with all of us. So I raised a glass to our Seleccao, but also to my Father. Many times in life we may feel robbed or angry about how or why things are taken away from us. But on that day, I was thankful for the great things that have been afforded to me in my life.

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  • Really meaningful picture of what sport can mean to so many of us, Chris. It is so true that there are things in life that are so much more important than football, and yet strangely it can be something as trivial as watching grown men kick a round ball into a net that bonds family together. I've always appreciated things like that in life. I hope you will feel and enjoy the presence of your father whenever you watch Portugal in the future.

    Great comments everyone!

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  • Much of what you said rings true for myself, also grew up in Canada watching Serie A in the 90's on TLN, lost interest in my early teens and came back to it in my late teens...I shared many of those Portuguese soccer moments with my father (except we're Benfica fans), we pretty much watch every national team game together...including physically attending the 2004 final in Lisbon, which doesn't sting so much anymore...but luckily for me my father is still here and seeing Eder score that goal and finally winning something with him was one of the great moments of my life and I can't imagine not sharing it with him, so reading your story actually almost brought a tear to my eye...but in the end I am sure he was there to see all the joy it brought everyone...thanks for sharing! :)

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  • Beautiful post Chris.

    Reading these commments, lovely to see how football, although far less important than other things in life, can be a powerful unifying force in bringing together family and friends. Here's to hoping the Seleção provides many more memorable moments of communion for us all over the coming years!

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    Firstly, @Chris: great post, mate! A reminder that sport and entertainment pales in comparison to the things that really matter in life, the things that we must indeed be thankful and grateful for.

    One year ago, I was watching the final in the old appartment (have since moved) with a strange confidence that we were going to win that final no matter what. That whole day I had this strange feeling of having no doubt that our time had finally come after so many disappointing ends to previous tournaments. Even when Ronaldo went off injured I kept telling people, "don't worry, we're gonna win", and the more the match went on goaless and the more frustrated France seemed to get, it seemed more and more likely we would win. When Eder smashed in that fantastic winner, I shouted so loudly that I'm sure the whole building heard me. My wife came into the living room saying "are you crazy, you gonna wake up the baby", and I was like "I'm sorry, I'll put her back to sleep, but this is history in the making here!!!". It really was a euphoric moment when Eder scored and when the final whistle blew, and so may of us will never forget it. The selecao really deserved this for all that Portuguese football has given to the sport, and a first major trophy was a long time coming considering all the great players and teams we've had in the past.

    In terms of moving forward to the World Cup and beyond, I agree with some of the points made here. I think what we need is to strike a balance between maintaining this steely, strong willed, ruthless determination which Santos has really instilled in the team, with more of the traditional jogo bonito of old and more proactive and skillful attacking football. If we can strike this balance then we could be the best team in the world, because not many other countries (only South American countries I could argue) produce such an abundance of technically gifted skillful players as Portugal. If we can mix that natural skill and flair we have with the strong will and steely determination and mental strength we saw last summer, the future will be very bright indeed. Santos was correct to make sure we got that first title under our belt by any means neccessary, because winning creates confidence and self-belief, that wasn't there before. Now that we have that title under our belt and the confidence that came with it, we must start moving forward and bringing back those traditional elements (skill, flair, attacking football) we have always had. And we have the players to do so. The near future is looking bright indeed for the selecao!!!!

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