Portugal gatecrashed France’s Euro 2016 party to win the European Championship for the first time in its history — and all this without leading star Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Real Madrid forward was forced out of the game with a knee injury in the first half, but Portugal regrouped and thanks to some heroic goalkeeping from Rui Patricio took the game into extra time before Eder struck with 11 minutes to go.
Portugal’s 1-0 win was all the more remarkable given in their previous 10 meetings, France had won all of them.
“Simple as doves and as wise as serpents,” is how Portugal coach Fernando Santos characterized his team’s success at Euro 2016.
France hit the post late on in normal time, but so too did Portugal just before Eder’s goal when Raphael Guerreiro’s exquisite free kick came back off the crossbar.
The win was testament to a remarkable group ethic after Ronaldo was taken off on a stretcher following a robust tackle by Dimitri Payet on eight minutes.
Twice Ronaldo tried to hobble back on the pitch before he collapsed, distraught and in tears as he conceded his tournament had come to a premature end.
The huge ovation he was given by the Stade de France crowd — French and Portuguese fans alike — must have been scant consolation given the pivotal role he has played in this side for over a decade since making his international debut as an 18-year-old.
“Terrible to see Cris come off like that,” tweeted Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale and no wonder given many had billed this as the crowning moment of Ronaldo’s career as an international player.
Twelve years ago he was also left in tears after Euro 2004 host Portugal was surprisingly beaten 1-0 by Greece.
True France might have been favorites to win this final given its home advantage, but this was a real opportunity for Ronaldo to showcase his talents in an international final and add to the countless starring roles he has produced for Real Madrid.
In the end given the prodigious efforts of his teammates it didn’t matter and Ronaldo, despite his injury, was well enough to jump up off the bench to join in the celebrations when Eder scored.
Portugal’s fans certainly hadn’t forgotten their talisman and as the clock ticked down they chanted his name again and again.
With Ronaldo out of the picture, Patricio was consistently on hand to thwart France, notably in saving a couple of fierce shots from Moussa Sissoko, who had an outstanding game.
Central defenders Pepe — named man of the match — and Jose Ponte were also key to Portugal’s defensive obdurateness.
Pepe described Portugal’s win as a victory of the “humble,” while France coach Didier Deschamps paid tribute to the victors’ organization.
“The winner always deserves it,” said France coach Didier Deschamps. “You can analyze things but they didn’t get to the final by chance.
“This is the first time I think that a team finished third in their group and ended up as champions.”
Portugal coach Santos added: “I always said we were a team. I told them we have a lot of quality and talent. But first we have to run and fight.”
Invasion of moths
Since Euro 2016 kicked off on June 10, the French authorities have had plenty on their hands given a state of emergency is still in place after France was targeted during the November terror attacks.
Sunday saw 3,400 police and gendarmes mobilized on the Champs-Elysees, with 1,400 deployed at the Stade de France and a further 1,900 keeping order at the 90,000 capacity Eiffel Tower fan zone.
Ahead of kick off the competition’s organizers had yet another worry to contend with — an invasion of moths, which visibly distracted referee Mark Clattenburg as he went about his final preparations before the start of the game.
Earlier Paris had been bathed in blistering sunshine and on a warm summer’s evening thousands of French supporters — young and old — had made their way to the Stade de France in northern Paris in the hope that host France would deliver the nation’s third European Championship triumph.