3rd place in the group stages, one match won in normal time … European Champions?
Hard to believe, yes!
Portugal have done the unthinkable, the bizarre, the astonishing.
Portugal 1-0 France (AET):
The hosts – France, were prime favourites for this almighty encounter , and went into this match in fine form! Antoine Griezmann, the golden boy of the tournament with 6 goals to his name going into the final , he is only 3 goals behind the all-time leading goal scorer – Michel Platini for goals in European Championships. The Atletico man had already suffered heartbreak in a final already this season, to Real Madrid- their nemesis. Cristiano Ronaldo was the man who clinched the dramatic win on penalties in Lisbon for ‘Los Blancos ‘ however, his night in heaven in Lisbon, was about to turn to a night of hell in Saint- Denis.
Portugal had the worst possible start to the match when a heavy challenge from Dimitri Payet left Ronaldo in agony on the ground. The Portuguese bench looked on in disbelief. He resumed play however, signalling that he would be alright to continue , this did not last long though. A couple of minutes after giving the thumbs up to the bench, Ronaldo was straggling along on the pitch, unable to run. He collapsed to the floor, in tears. His match was over in the 25th minute, he left the field crying, and leaving the Portuguese fans thinking how this was going to be their match now. All the build up of ” Can he out-do Lionel Messi”, ” will he clinch his first European trophy with Portugal?” , ” could he do, what Lionel Messi couldn’t?”. All these questions were left unanswered and posed the question as to how Portugal would recover from this unthinkable loss.
The game continued , without the star player on show. Portugal struggled on; almost looking lost without their talisman to look up to. France on the other hand, were finding it hard to get past the rock-solid Portuguese defence, which have proven difficult to beat all tournament. Portugal’s playing style has come under a lot of criticism this tournament- often being labelled as ” ugly”, ” boring”, and ” defensive” which to some regards is very true, in the majority of their games Fernando Santos’ men have been happy to sit deep and not attack very often. As the first half drew to a close, there was very little to show for in terms of chances, neither side looked willing to go for it and make the first move. In this game of chess, both sides looked for the checkmate and the chance to advance forward, but found themselves at the start and unable to complete any pivotal movements.
As the second half got underway, there was a little more sense of urgency from both sides; in particular France. The hosts were beginning to realise that they needed this more now than ever, a perfect time to capture the ultimate prize- on home soil. The star man- Griezmann however ,nowhere to be seen. Moussa Sissoko of relegated Newcastle was the man pulling all the strings for Les Bleus, his powerful and energetic runs helped France to drive at the stern Portugal back-line. Didier Deschamps recognised that something was not working, they were not playing anywhere near as well as they had in previous games. Kingsley Coman, the Bayern Munich youngster was deployed into action, and not long after coming on, created a goal winning opportunity for the player of the tournament- Griezmann. A lofted ball which found the head of the Atletico Madrid striker , who was lurking at the right hand post, grazed over the bar and left him with his hands on his head in disbelief. Moments later, Coman again the architect of a French attack, threaded through Arsenal striker, Olivier Giroud on the left hand side in the box. His across-goal shot was well saved by Rui Patricio however and rebounded back into play. Down the other end of the pitch, drama followed. A rare attack from Fernando Santos’ men saw Luis Nani sprint down the right hand flank and whip a looping ball into the box, a cross which nearly turned into a goal! The ball struck the woodwork and had Hugo Lloris fooled.
With 10 minutes remaining, Deschamps took one last roll of the dice. Andre Pierre Gignac was thrown on in place of Giroud. France kept pushing for the elusive winner and it almost came, with one minute to play, from the new man off the bench! A ball from Patrice Evra on the left hand side, found its way to Gignac, who managed to shrug Pepe off his back and found some space to unleash a shot. His effort trickled onto the left post, left hearts in mouths, and signalled the end of the game- no winner found.
Extra time was upon the players, fatigue looking prominent, which country would unite to overcome the struggle of another 30 minutes of game time? Portugal landed themselves the first major chance to get the first goal. A free kick, 25 yards out from goal; no Ronaldo to take it? Step up Raphael Guerreiro. The new Borussia Dortmund left back unleashed a rocket which sizzled on the bar, the second time this match Portugal had hit the woodwork.
As penalties loomed, 10 minutes to play in extra time, no clear winner breaching forward. A moment of magic struck. Eder, who came on in the 80th minute of the match, launched a shot across the floor from 25 yards out, which nestled into the left hand corner! Out of reach for Hugo Lloris, Game winner! The former Swansea City man carved his name in the history books, and left the home nation stunned. With penalties around the corner, it looked as if both teams had mutually agreed for a stalemate and were ok to call it a day, this was evidently not the case! The Portuguese fans sent into jubilation, sheer ecstasy!
Full Time (AET)
Portugal 1- 0 France
The trophy that has eluded Ronaldo for so long has now been captured to his delight, which was made very clear from his antics on the sidelines. Ronaldo was shown running up the touchline cheering his side on , with a slight limp! When the whistle went, the tears came flooding out ( not for the first time!) Portugal had done the impossible. Getting to the final- impressive enough , despite their slightly unorthodox and fortunate manner , winning without one of the best players in the world at your side- even more so.
Where did it all go wrong for France? Allegedly £100 million man, Paul Pogba was something of a ghost in the final! No magic to be cast from him that’s certain, Griezmann’s sizzling form put out by the Portuguese defence, and a lack of urgency to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and win. Nonetheless, a great tournament for France , especially after their last few disastrous campaigns- in particular the 2010 World Cup bust up, where the players went on strike. A campaign still to be hugely proud of, however a slight sour taste of disappointment left for Les Bleus ‘.
By Tom Cavilla : 17 years old