Théo Hernandez hits the spot as France beat Portugal in shootout to progress

Two teams that simply could not score all night finally found their range in the shootout and, in the end, it was France who held their nerve. They had Théo Hernandez to thank for sending them through after João Félix, the only player to falter, struck a post with his penalty. In a strange affair of shots, chances but no finishing touch, Cristiano Ronaldo was left to regret squandering a glorious opening while Kylian Mbappé may wait anxiously on any consequences from what appeared a painful blow to his broken nose.

The question before kick-off had been whether these sides, both yet to flow freely despite their attacking riches, would elect to turn on the taps. Portugal had drawn blanks ever since brushing Turkey aside while France, two own goals and a penalty to their name, had eased this far without offering much of note at all.

Before the tournament this pairing had been widely viewed as a potential final, rerunning the largely tedious but ultimately dramatic climax to Euro 2016. Mbappé had only just signed his first professional contract back then; here was a chance to depose his childhood hero and fellow captain Ronaldo, even if the continued nuisance of his protective face mask meant assessing the task through what he described as 3D glasses.

This time someone would bow out early. It was tempting to expect a deliberate, slow-burning encounter suffused with bursts of rare quality. France attempted to set a somewhat faster tempo from the start, Randal Kolo Muani failing to find a teammate when cutting back from a useful position, but Portugal drew any initial sting. It was Rafael Leão, producing one of those flashes, who raised the first cheers with an outrageous backheel that nutmegged Jules Koundé and sent Nuno Mendes away. The left-back’s cross was poor but there were riches here if either team could tap into them.

There were also bloopers, if Mike Maignan’s careless control of Dayot Upamecano’s backpass was anything to go by. He caught the resulting corner but was soon scrambling across his goal as Bruno Fernandes’ sighter deflected wide. A pattern had broadly established itself, France giving up possession and hoping Mbappé might lead any charge on the counter. Midway through the first half he found an opportunity to run at João Cancelo, creating half a hard and seeing Diogo Costa paw his waist-high centre away. The Portugal goalkeeper, hero of the shootout against Slovenia, had recently batted away a Hernandez drive.

Portugal look crestfallen after defeat on penalties. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Leão, such a thrill to watch in full flight, was panicking Koundé. A shimmy took him around his man and won a corner, from which France countered at speed only for Mbappé and N’Golo Kanté to squander the position. On the half-hour Pepe, the 41-year-old marvel, produced a masterclass when insouciantly muscling Kolo Mouani off the ball near Portugal’s 18-yard line.

His fellow old stager had been less involved. When Ronaldo pursued a raking pass in the 35th minute, William Saliba strode over and shrugged him aside almost quizzically; perhaps he might have been on his toes soon afterwards when Cancelo fizzed a ball across the box. Perhaps the only real surprise in the opening period came when he left a 25-yard free-kick to Fernandes, who wafted it over the bar. By recent standards it was admirable largesse; the game’s offerings, though, had been miserly.

Mbappé sought to change the picture after the restart with a shot into Costa’s midriff and then Hernandez centred just ahead of Kolo Muani. Perhaps proceedings were finally heating up.

They certainly handed a fearsome jolt to Mbappé when, defending a corner, he was caught in the face at point-blank range by Bernardo Silva’s header. He immediately went down, removing the mask, before continuing in evident discomfort. His protection had presumably done its job but his fitness to perform is clearly hanging by a thread.

This was better, though, Eduardo Camavinga, in for the suspended Adrien Rabiot, chased back brilliantly to prevent Leão going for goal. Then Maignan beat away an angled strike from Fernandes, who then fed Cancelo for a shot that drifted off target. Moments later Leão tormented Koundé again and teed up an onrushing Vitinha, who should probably have scored but drew a sharp save from Maignan.

That had nothing on the opening with which Kolo Muani was presented in the 67th minute. There were World Cup final vibes as the ball sat up but Rúben Dias, somehow getting just enough of himself in the way, was able to send his shot spinning a fraction wide.

It was a flurry that, in its frustration, summed up both teams’ travails. Ronaldo’s were encapsulated when, five minutes from the end and with Fernandes having been replaced by Francisco Conceição, he finally got his hands on a free-kick. Into the wall it went, and into an inevitable period of extra-time a nevertheless interesting affair drifted.

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Three minutes into the additional period it should have exploded when Conceição, scorching to the byline, cut back for an unmarked Ronaldo. Surely he would emulate Pepe, imperious throughout, in rolling back the years now? But he spooned over, Conceicao making a point of offering sympathy, and his labours continued.

The clearly uneasy Mbappé, whose shooting had been tentative, was replaced for the final stages and the wayward finishing continued when Félix headed into the side netting with his first touch. Mendes then missed at the very last: penalties were nailed on and Félix was to discover their cruelty.

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