If you really think Portugal cares about winning soccer games beautifully, stop reading now.
Portugal defeated France 1-0 in extra time Sunday in the final of the 2016 UEFA European Championship. Eder scored the winning goal in the 109th minute to give Portugal its first-ever Euro or World Cup title after generations of trying in vain and numerous close calls, which only ended in heartbreak.
The agony of defeat now belongs to Euro 2016 host nation France, which came within one goal and 12 minutes of victory on home soil. Instead, Eder’s name rises from anonymity throughout much of the soccer world into the pantheon of French villains and the annals of history elsewhere.
“Unremarkable” describes most of the game, with the major talking point centering around a player who missed all but 25 of 120 minutes of open play: Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal’s superstar captain initially suffered a knee injury in an eighth-minute collision with Dimitri Payet. Ronaldo tried to treat and cope with the pain, but 13 minutes of effort ended in a tearful substitution and stretcher ride into the dressing room. While Ronaldo’s heartbreak was unbearable to watch, the rest of the proceedings would color his injury forever.
Portugal dug in without its talisman and resisted France’s attack by any means necessary. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio was first among the stand-out performers, repeatedly denying Moussa Sissoko, Antoine Griezmann and the other hosts a chance to celebrate wildly by making a string of saves throughout the contest. France was the top-scoring team at Euro 2016 with 13 goals, but Portugal contained its three-headed attacking monster of Griezmann, Payet and Olivier Giroud by defending deep and relying on Patricio.
Where Patricio failed, his teammates and some luck came to the rescue. This was the case two minutes into second-half stoppage time when France’s Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post after beating Portugal defender Pepe with a skillful dribble and Patricio with a shot.
As extra time unfolded, Portugal finally found its attacking verve. France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saved Eder’s 104th-minute header from point-blank range. Five minutes later, Lloris would dive in vain as Eder’s shot from 25-yards — his second shot in Euro 2016 — rolled past him into the goal.
Portugal’s win was a triumph of attrition, as Ronaldo, Pepe, Nani and Co. grinded their way through Euro 2016 until it was the last group standing. Portugal played seven games in France, winning just one in normal time. Such were the possibilities of this expanded, 24-team European Championship.
The margin of victory was slim. Portugal’s performance rose slightly on the day; at the exact moment France’s level dipped.
Soccer’s romantics and dreamers might turn up their noses at Portugal’s victory. Let them. Their opinions won’t diminish the thrill of victory Portugal is experiencing for the first time.
Here’s how Portugal grinded down France.
Ronaldo out, back on the sidelines
Payet’s tackle on Ronaldo reverberated around the world.
Ronaldo’s injury limited him to just eight touches and prevented him from setting a new record for career Euro goals (nine). His absence forced Portugal to soldier without its general at a major tournament for the first time in a decade. Kudos go to Pepe, Nani, Patricio and their inexperienced cohorts, who rose to the occasion.
Ronaldo returned to Portugal’s bench for extra time and barely spent any of it in the dugout. He was in or around Portugal’s technical area urging his team on to victory for the final minutes.
It was great theater.
The Portugal striker entered the game to a muted reception but became a national hero within minutes. He joined Portugal’s proud tradition of goal-scoring substitutes, becoming the 14th player in his country’s history to score off the bench at a Euro. No other country boasts such impactful reinforcements.
Eder also blazed a new trail by scoring.
France missing something
Les Bleus attacked and defended aggressively for the first half hour, but their performance level dipped sharply after that. France’s starting lineup struggled to create many clear-cut chances. The introduction of Kingsley Coman in the 58th minute boosted France, but they needed finishers to match the 20-year-old’s creativity.
History turned on its head
Until Sunday, France hadn’t lost at home in 18 competitive games.
But everything changes over time. That is, until history starts repeating itself.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/UEFA.tv