In the final showdown between France and Portugal at the Euro 2016, Portugal emerged as the champion beating France by 1-0, thanks to Éder’s extra-time goal.
France started the match trying to impose an uptempo rhythm whereas Portugal preferred a more controlled pace. There were very little goal scoring opportunities in the first half, with the exceptions being an over-the-bar volley from Nani in the 4th minute, a header from Griezmann in the 10th and a low strike by Sissoko in the 34th, these last two both saved by Portugal’s Rui Patrício. France had more possession (55% to 45% at halftime, 53% to 47% in the end of regulation) and goal attempts as the match progressed. In the eighth minute Portugal’s captain and all-time leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo suffered an injury from a hard tackle by Dimitri Payet, not judged as a foul by referee Mark Clattenburg. Ronaldo attempted to play on, but came off twice before finally going down a third time and was substituted for Ricardo Quaresma in the 25th minute.Sports Illustrated remarked that France missed opportunities in the 10th, 34th, 66th, and 84th minutes, while the UEFA website mentioned that France continued to probe without managing to obtain clear chances.
Portugal used their remaining two substitutions in the second half, bringing on João Moutinho for Adrien Silva and Éder for Renato Sanches, while France brought on Kingsley Coman for Dimitri Payet and André-Pierre Gignac for Olivier Giroud. The home side’s main chances occurred in the second half, when Griezmann was left unmarked 6 metres from the goal heading over the crossbar, and when Gignac hit the post in the last minute of normal time after his shot beat Rui Patrício. Portugal’s best chances at goals came in extra time: a header from Éder was saved by Hugo Lloris and Raphaël Guerreiro hit the crossbar from a free kick mistakenly given by the referee, as the ball touched Éder’s hand, not Koscielny’s. France never got the ball cleared, and Éder scored what would turn out to be the winning goal after 109 minutes, after João Moutinho recovered the ball in the midfield and passed it to the forward. Holding off Laurent Koscielny, Éder cut inside and struck the ball low and to the keeper’s right from approximately 25 yards (23 m). ESPN said that the strike was “brilliantly taken” and “one that deserved to win any final”. France immediately brought on Anthony Martial, but to no avail.
In the end, Cristiano Ronaldo had his hands on the trophy even if it was not the way the ultimate showman had intended. Portugal, the team that finished third in their group, had found a way even on a night when their greatest footballer was taken off on a stretcher. The players of France were on their knees and suddenly it was a sunrise of a smile on Ronaldo’s face, in stark contrast to the devastation that had been seen earlier in the night.
Has any player been through as many contrasting emotions in the space of a major final? Ronaldo was in tears when he left the pitch with his damaged knee in the first half. He had tried desperately to carry on and when he finally accepted it was futile it felt like a grievous setback to Portugal’s hopes of denying France the outcome that would have meant so much in this city. Ronaldo looked broken. The final was deprived of its main attraction and at that stage it was tempting to wonder whether his team-mates truly believed they could cope.
Portugal subsequently played like a team affronted by the suggestion they might be overly reliant on one man. They gave everything to keep out France during the long passages when the host nation put them under pressure.
Their sense of adventure grew as the game wore on and, ultimately, Éder’s decisive goal in the second period of extra time won a test of endurance. Their run of 10 successive defeats to France, stretching back to 1978, was over and Ronaldo, his leg heavily strapped, climbed the steps to collect the silverware – an excruciating low, an exhilarating high and a night like few others.
Portugal can duly reflect on their greatest ever victory, made all the more remarkable by the fact they could not beat Iceland, Hungary or Austria in the group stages. Their safety-first tactics will not appeal to everyone but nobody could dispute their competitive courage and mental toughness after the jarring challenge that meant their three-times Ballon d’Or winner was unable to influence the game in the way he would have imagined.
Fernando Santos, their wily old manager, has put together a tough, obdurate side. Their goalkeeper, Rui Patrício, had a fine night and France seldom threatened after that moment, at the end of normal time, when the substitute André-Pierre Gignac turned inside Pepe in the penalty area to leave himself with the opportunity to be a hero. Gignac scuffed his shot against a post, almost in slow motion, with the clock ticking into stoppage time. The game went into an additional 30 minutes and France gradually ran out of ideas.
Portugal might also reflect they were fortunate earlier that Antoine Griezmann misdirected his header with another of the game’s few clear opportunities. At times, sans Ronaldo, it seemed like they did not entirely believe in their own ability to get behind the French defence and that conservatism certainly suffocated parts of the games as a spectacle.
There were signs, however, from the 70th minute onwards that they were willing to play with more adventure. Raphaël Guerreiro, Portugal’s left-back, struck the crossbar with a free-kick in extra time –even if it should have been a foul the other way – and a couple of minutes later, the ball was at the feet of Éder, 25 yards from goal. Éder finished last season on loan at Lille and his brief time at Swansea City, having signed for £5m from Braga last summer, can probably be encapsulated by the South Wales Echo describing him as “one of the most disappointing transfer flops” in the club’s history. His shot was struck with power and precision, arrowing its way into the bottom right-hand corner of Hugo Lloris’s net. Portugal had their breakthrough and it seemed like every single member of their entourage was on the pitch to celebrate.
For France, it was a galling way to end the tournament, but the truth for Didier Deschamps and his players is that they did not show enough wit and creativity around the penalty area. Olivier Giroud had one of his frustrating nights, Griezmann faded after an encouraging start and it was strange that Deschamps decided to take off Dimitri Payet in the 57th minute when the West Ham player had been troubling his opponents. Maybe the enormity of the occasion was weighing on French minds, or perhaps it worked against them that they had a day fewer than Portugal to prepare. Whatever the truth, they will be left to contemplate why they were unable to take advantage of Ronaldo’s misfortune.
The injury occurred after eight minutes when Payet’s knee followed through, at speed, into the side of Ronaldo’s left leg and there was not a single moment from that point onwards when the Real Madrid player looked pain-free.
Nine minutes later he was down again, signalling for help, before being taken off for a second round of treatment. This being Ronaldo, there was a desperate attempt to see how far his powers could stretch, but it always seemed unrealistic when he made one last attempt to run it off. Ronaldo finally conceded defeat in the 25th minute and collapsed to the ground for the third occasion.
The ovation as he was carried off suggested the crowd recognized genuine greatness. His team-mates, however, seemed intent on making sure his absence was not the decisive factor.