KEIR RADNEDGE in DONETSK: Portugal manager Paulo Bento took away with him from the Donbass Arena the consolation that he believed his team had done the nation proud in coming within a shootout of the Euro 2012 final.
The Portuguese lost 4-2 on penalties to European champions Spain after a goalless extra-time draw in their semi-final and Bento said: “We played a very good tournament if you consider not only how we performed but the quality of the opposition: Germany, Holland and Denmark in the group and then, in the quarter-finals, the Czech Republic.
“In fact, we were fantastic.”
He thought Portugal had enjoyed the better of a hard-worked first 90 minutes against Spain but had conceded too much possession in extra time and allowed Spain to come back at them. Spain had benefited from the late introduction of attacking substitutes Jesus Navas and Pedro.
Bento added: “If I had to choose a way to lose I wouldn’t choose this way [penalties] but you have to decide the game some way. Spain are a great team and we can leave the pitch with our heads high.
“The players can take their holidays – which they deserve – and then from September we will think about preparing to reach the World Cup finals in 2014. We have shown we can compete with any team in any tournament at any level.”
Bento will face some criticism, when the immediate dust has settled, at holding back Cristiano Ronaldo to take the fifth penalty. In the event it was not needed because the failures of Joao Moutinho (a fine save by Iker Casillas) and Bruno Alves (who hit the bar) meant Spain had won it ahead of time.
He said: “Our players trained for this situation so we were prepared but if you don’t have a little bit of luck you miss out – and we didn’t too much luck in this game. The order we decided on was Moutinho, Pepe, Nani and Alves and the fifth would have been Ronaldo. It could have been an advantage for us because our goalkeeper had saved the first penalty – but then we lost that advantage straight away.
“If it had been 4-4 and Ronaldo had taken the last penalty we would be talking in a different way. It was just a question of strategy and I don’t regret it.”
Bento praised Spain as “a great team who deserve to be in the final” but he was proud of his own players and believed that would be a sentiment shared by the entire Portuguese nation.
He added: “We played a very competitive game, aggressive and cohesive. We tried to control the game as much as possible . . . I think all of Portugal can be proud of this team.”
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