Portugal 0-0 France (3-5 pens): Les Bleus into Euro 2024 semi-finals via penalties after arduous stalemate

France booked their place in the Euro 2024 semi-finals with a penalty shootout win over Portugal on Friday night.

An arduous 0-0 draw always looked likely to go the distance and only Joao Felix’s spot-kick against the post separated two sides who spent the vast majority of their trip to Hamburg trying not to lose, rather than trying to win.

A first half characterised by just one shot on target between the two teams (an unthreatening 25-yarder from Theo Hernandez) and a mere 11 touches of the ball for Cristiano Ronaldo (none of which were in the box) passed both teams by entirely.

The onus, more than ever, was on the world-class creative talents of either side to crowbar the stalemate open, but their support casts featuring one team with three defensive midfielders and the other with two, were so often not up to the job.

Kylian Mbappe, nursing a ball to the face which knocked his mask off just before the hour mark, exchanged a neat one-two with N’Golo Kante before firing right at Diogo Costa. Up the other end, Bruno Fernandes finally had the Selecao’s first shot on target after a rare moment of Portuguese initiative via Joao Cancelo.

That sparked Portugal into life as Rafael Leao fed an unmarked Vitinha in the 63rd minute, but his shot was straight at Mike Maignan. France responded with Randal Kolo Muani’s powerful volley drawing a sharp block from Ruben Dias before Eduardo Camavinga slashed the best opening of the lot wide from six yards out.

Extra-time soon began to loom large on both teams’ minds however and the pace of play dropped off considerably, not helped from a Portuguese perspective by their continually inept set-piece deliveries which left Ronaldo devoid of any service.

The inevitability of the additional 30 minutes did indeed come to pass in a draining encounter which seemed to be getting the better of the once vibrant atmosphere. Francisco Conceicao did his best to up the volume with a dart to the byline and cutback which Ronaldo, looking as sharp as most 39-year-olds do after a futile 93-minute runaround, skied over the bar.

Mbappe departed at half-time while nursing his nose and Roberto Martinez introduced Joao Felix to try and inject some much-needed energy for a goal to avoid penalties. Felix timed his run perfectly to meet a deep Conceicao cross but headed into the side netting. French substitutes Ousmane Dembele and Bradley Barcola produced worse finishes following smart runs up the other end before Portugal’s Nuno Mendes spurned the final chance of extra-time.

Portuguese goalkeeper Costa was the hero only days ago when he saved all three of Slovenia’s penalties in their last-16 shootout but he didn’t get near any of France’s as Theo Hernandez scored the winner to punish Felix’s miss and book a semi-final against Spain on Tuesday.