KEIR RADNEDGE in SAINT-DENIS —- Portugal scored a shock 1-0 win over France in extra time to win the 2016 European Championship in the Stade de France.
France were shattered. They had been expected by their fans, their population, to win both match and, thus, the crown. Matchwinner Eder plays for Lille in the French league but his goal was definitely not in the hosts’ national plan.
Yet the French task had been made apparently less complicated early on when Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s captain, superstar and inspiration, was carried after injuring his left knee.
Portugal had been already up against it as outsiders against the hosts who had been the only one of the two teams to offer a serious early threat to goal. Yet, in his absence, they reorganised, pulled their game together and emerged as the more cohesive force in the extra halfhour.
Les Bleus had won on home soil in 1984, the last time the hosts had emerged triumphant from ‘their’ tournament. They had staged a tournament in largely impeccable style, despite all the fears and threats of chaos which had accompanied the opening a month ago.
The only major failing of the tournament had been the comparatively poor quality of the football; some memorable goals but few memorable matches. Expanding from 16 to 24 teams had been brilliant for the European federation’s bank balance – revenue increased by 34pc compared with 2012 – but at a significant cost in terms of showcasing the sport.
Senior UEFA officials all insisted that the qualifying competition had benefited from greater drama and excitement. But the drawn-out 15-month campaign was hardly focus-explosive.
Any of the headlines had been written by the David and Goliath giantkilling exploits of middle-class nations in rising beyond their status. Pity some of Europe’s old powers had not managed that. These included, of course, 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, deposed holders Spain and England.
Even the final was not, in the end, resolved by a contest between the two finest players of the tournament: French striker Antoine Griezmann, with six goals to his credit, and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in determined pursuit of his first and probably last national team title.
Portugal kicked off but it was France who immediately seized the initiative. They played fluid football with all the confident interchanging of a club side, illustrating the spirit and style imbued by manager Didier Deschamps.
Though it was Portugal’s Nani who unleased the first shot – high over the bar – it was France who were creating the early danger. Pepe was dispossessed by Olivier Giroud and Dmitri Payet’s lofted forward pass was headed on by Griezmann, forcing Rui Patricio to claw the ball over the bar.
Soft header saved
Payet’s corner was perfecftly judged but Giroud’s soft header plopped safely into the gloves of Rui Patricio, standing up to him.
This was not Portugal’s only worry. Ronaldo had needed treatment to his left knee after tumbling over a challenge by Payet in the seventh minute. He collapsed to the ground in the 16th minute, needed further treatment before returning and then collapsing again. This time he had to be carried off, in clear distress, and was substituted by Ricardo Quaresma.
France, after the interruption, resumed where they had left off. Moussa Sissoko produced a sinuous twist and turn to create space for a fierce drive which ricocheted back off Rui Patricio’s gloves almost before the keeper can have been aware of it. Top marks to him for anticpation and positioning.
Now the game took an intriguing twist as Portugal, without having to look to Ronaldo, began to put their game together for the first time. Renato Sanches, brought into centre-field from the right wing, began to find space and link up with intently with Joao Mario, Quaresma and Nani.
Goalless at half-time, France raised the tempo again at the start of the second half but without threatening as they had in the first half.
Deschamps brought on Kingsley Coman for the eager but ineffective Payet but it was not until the 58th minute that France raised any serious danger when Griezmann – who had all but vanished from the game – slapped an angled shot into the side net.
Griezmann wasted perhaps the best chance of all thus far in the 66th minute. Pogba slung a superb crossfield pass out to Coman. His cross from the left was perfectly judged for the inrushing Griezmann but the Atletico de Madrid striker flashed his header wastefully over the bar.
Minutes later Giroud was the culprit, presented with a shooting chance and in space his shot was once again defied by Rui Patricio.
As subs came and went and the game fractured, so Portugal raised one of their occasional sorties forward. Nani’s cross-shot from the right drew a finger-save save from Lloris who was grateful to catch the overhead kick which Quaresa applied to the loose ball.
France kept up the pressure at the other end. Sissoko, their best player by a long way, saw a fierce drive brilliantly saved by Rui Patricio and then substitute Pierre-Andre Gignac smacked a low drive against Patricio’s right-hand post.
The ball ricocheted across the open face of goal and the final thus ran into extra time – the fifth to do so, though this was the first time a final had been goalless after 90 minutes.
Portugal looked more organised in extra time. In the first half Lloris saved sharply from an Eder header at a corner and then, in the 106th minute, the French keeper/captain tipped a fine free kick from Raphael Guerreiro against the bar.
If the French thought they had escaped, they were wrong. Eder seized on a loose ball 25yd out, swivelled and drove a low shot just inside Lloris’s right-hand post. Incredibly, Portugal held a lead which they never then looked in danger of relinquishing.
Portugal: Rui Patricio – Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Raphael Guerrero – William Carvalho – Renato Sanches (Eder 78), Adrien Silva (Joao Moutinho 66), Joao Mario – Nani, Ronaldo (Quaresma 25). Manager: Fernando Santos.
France: Lloris – Sagna, Kosciely, Umtiti, Evra – Pogba, Matuidi – Sissoko (Martial 108), Griezmann, Payet (Coman 58) – Giroud (Gignac 77).. Manager: Deschamps.
Referee: Clattenburg (England).
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