Despite finishing third in their group, looking far from convincing on their way through the knock-out stages and losing their star player to injury in the final, Portugal find themselves Euro 2016 winners. Quite how they managed to do it, or indeed France conspired to lose it is a mystery?
Portugal’s safety-first, risk-little style won’t have won many fans during the tournament but ultimately the challenge of trying to break them down was to prove too much for the hosts and overwhelming favourites.
The final itself was far from being a classic; the early stages were overshadowed by an injury to Ronaldo that eventually saw him leave the field. Chances were at a premium; the player of the tournament Griezmann tested Partricio with a looping header early on and later fired into the side-netting. Portugal for their part struggled to test Lloris at all; yet it felt that the longer they could hold France at bay, the more they would start to believe, even in the absence of their captain and talisman.
After the break, Deschamps decided to change things, introducing the exciting winger Coman, but strangely it was Payet that made way. The substitute set up Griezmann for a header that the tournament’s leading scorer couldn’t direct on target, but the game always had the feeling that we would be going to extra time. However, in a late flurry of action, Lloris made a good save from an overhead kick by Quaresma, atoning for the fact that he had set him up in the first place when he clawed away Nani’s sliced cross. Then Sissoko’s effort from distance forced a decent save from Patricio and late in added time Gignac, on as sub for the ineffectual Giroud, had a glorious chance to win it after working space for himself in the area, but his scuffed shot crashed back off the left upright.
Maybe it was having a day’s less rest, but during extra time France seemed to visibly tire and it was Portugal that looked the stronger, however neither team seemingly wanted to risk too much.
Guerreiro rattled the crossbar with a free kick in the second period, then just as my thoughts were starting to focus on a the game being decided by a penalty shoot-out, Eder picked up the ball on the left, drove infield and fired a low shot beyond the reach of Lloris and into the bottom left hand corner. You could almost sense the French heads dropping and their belief dissipating, they weren’t able to recover and in the end Portugal saw out the win and secured their first major trophy.
At the end of it all Portugal were champions despite having only won one game out of the seven they played in the regulation 90 minutes; however looking at it another way they hadn’t lost either. For those of us supporting France, it was a bitter pill to swallow and it felt cruel, but there are different ways to produce effective football and it was almost as if Portugal got revenge for their defeat to Greece in 2004 by playing just like them.