By Drew Farmer
Despite the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal sealed its first European Championship trophy in the Euro 2016 final with a 1-0 win over hosts France. The Portuguese were heavy underdogs going into the final, but held off the mighty French for over 90 minutes, before Eder’s extra-time winner.
The two nations had taken different routes to the final in Paris. The French had won five and drawn one on the road to the tournament climax, scoring 13 goals and conceding just four. Portugal on the other hand, failed to win any of its three group games, drawing the trio of fixtures.
In fact, until Ronaldo saved the side in the final group game against Hungary, scoring twice and assisting a third, it looked as though the Portuguese would be headed home. Portugal squeaked through in third place, however. In the knockout stages, Portugal only won once in regular time. That win came in the team’s 2-0 semi-final victory over Wales. The team’s performances had many fans and critics crying foul over the team’s “anti-football”.
The final didn’t go to plan for the Portuguese. France was the aggressor early on, pinning the Portuguese back. Portugal was unable to help themselves out early on either, unable to pass its way out of danger. Just after the 15 minute mark things looked bleak, Ronaldo collided with French attacker Dimitri Payet, twisting his knee awkwardly as his boot stuck in the pitch’s surface. Though the star tried to carry on, Ronaldo was substituted on 25 minutes with tears in his eyes.
Although Portugal’s star player that had carried them through the tournament was now out of the final, the side didn’t falter. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio made seven saves during the match, none bigger than denying Moussa Sissoko’s piledriving shot in the second half.
France nearly won things in second half stoppage-time when Andre-Pierre Gignac freed himself of his defender, hitting a shot that caromed off the Portugal goal frame. The Portuguese were still in the final as the 90 minutes came to an end.
Locked at nil-nil, the two sides kicked off extra-time as both teams looked weary in the humid Paris night. Portugal’s second half substitute, an unlikely hero, Eder would see the underdogs over the line. The striker had played a mere 13 minutes all tournament, and logged just 26 touches in the final. However, the 1.88 metre striker played the most important part of all.
Receiving the ball 30-yards from goal, Eder wriggled free of French defender Laurent Koscielny, before sending a shot that skipped across the Stade de France surface and into the back of Hugo Lloris’ net. Like that, Portugal had snatched the lead, and a stunned France had zero answers to the Portuguese defence.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos’ side had been ridiculed throughout the tournament as a defensive team. Yet, in the final, his organised, counter-attacking group prevailed. Without a top-class goal scorer for the Euro 2016 tournament, Portugal relied on its defence to suck teams in before breaking on the counter.
Despite losing Ronaldo early on, the Real Madrid player did his job to get his country to the final, pulling them through the group and knockout stages. Without him, his countrymen fulfilled their responsibilities. This year has seen Ronaldo win both the Champions League and the European Championship, which should make him odds on favourite to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or. In addition, Ronaldo now holds one title over internal-rival Lionel Messi in the “Greatest Footballer in the World” debate: an international trophy.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @DrewMFarmer. Check out his latest book, Soccer Travels, in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.com. Check out Drew’s website Soccer Travels for more.