Belgium 1-0 Portugal
Despite putting up a wonderful fight, Portugal's European Championship defense faltered tonight at the Estadio La Cartuja in Sevilla. After going behind to a wonderful Thorgan Hazard strike at the end of the first half, Portugal threw everything at the Belgians, hit the woodwork, and missed several other gilt-edged opportunities.
But Belgium held out and will face Italy in the quarterfinals despite being largely outplayed and outshot 21 attempts to 6, especially as Portugal desperately sought an equalizer. After knocking out the reigning champions, Belgium become a tempting bet using Pinnacle VIP Code to go all the way and win Euro 2020.
In keeping with tournament tradition, Fernando Santos made an interesting and unexpected switch at right back with Diogo Dalot replacing Nelson Semedo. João Pahlinha too was a breath of fresh air into the squad after his wonderful second half cameo against France. Belgium, meanwhile, returned several key players to the starting XI including Eden Hazard and Youri Tielemans in their 3-4-2-1 formation.
Both teams felt each other out in the opening five minutes before Portugal got things going when Renato Sanches got the wrong side of his marker with a brilliant turn near the halfway line. His run opened up space for Jota to get forward to his left and Sanches found him well, but the Liverpool striker skewed his effort wide right.
Lukaku teed up Eden Hazard on the edge of the area minutes later, but the Real Madrid playmaker mis-hit the shot. But neither team gave an inch and each side's tactical organization was superb through the opening twenty-five minutes.
Then Meunier handled the ball just outside the penalty area on the right. Ronaldo stepped up to the free kick and fired in Portugal's first shot on goal which was well-saved by Courtois. Jota headed the rebound well over the bar. Portugal were growing slowly into the match and Palhinha was next to try his luck from range.
Five minutes before the break, Thomas Meunier dribbled inside from the right and sent a Quaresma-esque trivela over the bar from 20 yards, but Belgium were strangely subdued as an attacking force until Thorgan Hazard stepped up against the run of play.
The Portuguese defense plucked the ball off Lukaku well, but the clearance was poor and fell to Hazard 25 yards from goal. Eden's younger brother let fly with a fierce effort which swerved into the right side netting, a goal representative of the Belgian's individual quality.
Belgium were dealt something of a blow just minutes into the second half when De Bruyne pulled up injured, a consequence of a first half encounter with João Pahlinha. Fernando Santos first throw of the dice was a double change with João Félix and Bruno Fernandes coming on for Bernardo and Moutinho, respectively.
Portugal pressed numbers forward in search of an equalizer, and Diogo Jota should have been the man to provide it after a scything run from Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal's captain squeezed between two defenders on the right to feed Jota in the center, but again the Liverpool man fluffed his lines. Félix sent a header on goal after a decent cross from Renato Sanches on the left drawing a good save out of Courtois.
But Portugal struggled to create chances despite mounting pressure, and André Silva was thrown into the fray for Diogo Jota with just over twenty minutes to play. Danilo and Sérgio followed, but still Portugal's possession failed to create chances as the match became more hot-tempered after several rough fouls.
Portugal won a corner in the 81st minute and Rúben Dias sent a wonderful header toward goal but it was straight at Courtois, who had only enough time to parry it skyward. Guerreiro hit the right post just after, but still Belgium hung on.
Lukaku skied over a free kick when he was fouled following a counterattack, but Portugal resumed control and Courtois again denied Portugal after Ronaldo headed the ball over the defense to André Silva whose sliding challenge was met by the Real Madrid keeper.
But despite wave after wave of attack and wonderful defensive interceptions for each of Belgium's counters, Portugal simply could not find the way through. Despite a well-organized performance which some might argue was their best this tournament, Belgium's singular moment of irrepressible quality shone brightest and won the match. Renato Sanches, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Portugal's defense all put in competent displays which on another night may have been more handsomely rewarded. But Belgium's tactical preparation was sufficient, and despite significant pressure as the second half wore on, their lines of defenders forced the Seleção into marginal chances while riding their luck as Guerreiro saw his effort come back off the woodwork.
The disappointment and inquest may yet result in Portugal's long-time manager, Fernando Santos, making way for a new coach to lead Portugal's emerging generation onward in their search for another championship. Cristiano Ronaldo put in another fine performance in the losing effort and finishes his tournament with five goals. But it was not enough in the end as yet again club stars such as Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, and others were unable to make the critical difference.
Portugal return to World Cup qualifying in September against the Republic of Ireland.
by Nathan Motz
Portugal XI: Rui Patrício - Raphaël Guerreiro, Rúben Dias, Pepe, Diogo Dalot - João Pahlinha (Danilo, 78'), João Moutinho (Bruno Fernandes, 56', Renato Sanches (Sérgio Oliveira, 79') - Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota (André Silva, 70') , Bernardo Silva (João Félix, 56')
Belgium XI: Courtois - Vermaelen, Alderweireld, Vertonghen - Tielemans, Meunier, Witsel, Thorgan Hazard - De Bruyne, Lukaku, Eden Hazard
[1-0] - Thorgan Hazard, 42'