Give It Up For The Champions Of Europe; Ronaldo’s Inspired Portugal

A bad final to end a modest tournament. Perhaps it was fitting, then, that its winners , the Champions Of Europe— via an extra-time goal from a former Swansea striker — are a team who finished third in their group and lifted the trophy after winning just one game out of seven over 90 minutes.

Portugal deserve credit for their pluck, but that is about it. They lost their captain and best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, to a knee injury caused by a Dimitri Payet challenge midway through the first half. It was bad luck, nothing else. It was a firm challenge by the West Ham player, but not a foul.

After that, Portugal simply hung on and hoped that they may get a break. They didn’t. They hoped that they may get to extra-time. They did, and then somehow they won it.

 

 

France should never have allowed themselves to be taken so deep into the game. They started well and, though they couldn’t sustain that momentum throughout, they were the only team to create chances in the first 90 minutes.

Antoine Griezmann, so deadly in the semi-final win against Germany, headed the best chance of his whole tournament over the bar from six yards in the second half.

Then, in the 90th minute, France substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac turned brilliantly in the penalty area, only to drag his shot against a post. After that, a penalty shootout seemed inevitable. That would have suited Portugal. But moments after left back Raphael Guerreiro had struck the bar with a free-kick in the 109th minute, substitute Eder — who did not score for Swansea in 13 league appearances — shrugged off Laurent Koscielny 30 yards from goal, carried the ball a couple of paces and struck a low right-foot shot that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saw but could not stop as it arrowed into his bottom right-hand corner.

There was bedlam on Portugal’s bench, even if Ronaldo, complete with knee strapping, could not join in. Around 10 minutes later it was all over and inevitably the focus turned once again to the Portugal captain.

The Real Madrid forward has had a mixed tournament. It began with childish carping about Iceland after Portugal had drawn their opening game 1-1 and he only came to life when he took control of his country’s semi-final against Wales in Lyon on Wednesday.

Here, though, Ronaldo saw the circle of his career completed. He may not have been on the field for much of this night, but that doesn’t really matter. He has dragged his country forward manfully for the past decade and he must have wondered — after a Euro 2004 final defeat by Greece and some close calls at the World Cup — if it was ever going to happen for him on this stage.

That’s why we saw tears. That’s why he cried when he succumbed to Payet’s challenge in the 18th minute. That’s why he cried when he accepted the inevitable a few minutes later and left the field on a stretcher. And that is why he cried at the end. Different tears, this time, as the pressure valve was released. And we should not begrudge him this victory.

Ronaldo may represent part of what we don’t like about the modern game, but he represents far more about what we do. He brings us guts, glory and thrills. He cares, too. He has always cared.

We may feel that this tournament has the wrong winners. Portugal have not been Euro 2016’s best team. They probably aren’t in the top three. But Fernando Santos’s team have found a way to get through this month in France and that determination was typified in the way they played last night.

France began well and looked as though they may take the game away from Portugal. Strangely, it was Newcastle midfielder Moussa Sissoko who was the hosts’ best player. While Griezmann, Payet and Paul Pogba existed on the periphery, Sissoko attempted to take hold of the game.

 

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