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But while the personnel changed, the instructions did not. Or, at least, they did not seem to. Two of the brightest, most inventive minds in European soccer entered the field, tasked with creating chances for one of the greatest players of all time against a defense with a combined age of 101, and proceeded to cross the ball. Again and again. And when that did not work, they tried to shoot from range.

That made no difference, and so Santos went to his bench again, this time summoning André Silva, one of the most devastating forwards in Germany last season, and then Sérgio Oliveira, the glue of an F.C. Porto team that had reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League only a few months ago.

Oliveira ended up playing in a sort of defensive midfield role. Silva went and stood in the penalty area, next to Ronaldo, and waited for the crosses to come in.

And come in they did. Some of them, though not enough, were even rather good. A handful of them produced chances: an emphatic header that Rúben Dias propelled, by accident rather than design, straight at goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois; one that was cleared only as far as Raphaël Guerreiro, among the finest attacking fullbacks in the game, whose shot clipped the post with Courtois beaten.

It was not the execution of the plan that was the problem, but rather the efficacy of the idea itself. Belgium is the oldest team in the tournament. Its defense — Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen — is the oldest part of its team. The suspicion remains that, for all its accumulated wisdom, it could be exposed by speed or by wit or by cunning, or by a combination of the three.

What it cannot be exposed by is crossing, and yet that is all Portugal asked it to do. Santos had charged his team with carefully working the ball wide, and then doing exactly what his opponent needed him to do, every single time. With all the Champions League-caliber creative power at his disposal, that is what he mustered.

It would be shortsighted to offer too harsh a verdict on Santos. There is no great shame in going out to Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team, a side that — at least until both Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard hobbled off the field injured — ranked alongside France and England as the likeliest winner of this tournament.

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