KEIR RADNEDGE in ST-DENIS: Portugal’s new European champions paid tribute to their emigrant fans in France after the remarkable victory over hosts France in the Euro 2016 final.
French-based substitute Eder struck a magnificent winning goal from 25yd early in the second half of extra time to break the goalless deadlock – and despite the departure from the game of injured skipper Ronaldo after only 25 minutes.
Ronaldo, once he had been patched up, returned to encourage his team-mates from the bench and then hoisted aloft the Coupe Henri Delaunay.
The Real Madrid superstar, now favourite to claim another World Player of the Year trophy, said: “I’m very happy. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, since 2004 and our defeat by Greece. I asked God for another chance at this title because Portugal deserved it, our players deserved it, our supporters deserved it.
“I always believed these players would be strong enough to beat France. This is one of the happiest moments in all of our careers. I wanted to be a part of history and managed to do so. I’d like to thank the team, the boss, all the Portuguese, the immigrants [in France] who supported us throughout.
“For me this is an amazing, unique moment.”
On top of the title, Portugal’s Renato Sanches was awarded the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Ronaldo’s words were echoed by his team-mates thus:
Matchwinner Eder on his goal: “All I did was turn and shoot but it was a part of our teamwork, a product of all our efforts in this game and in the rest of the championship. It was a tough time when Ronaldo was injured because he’s the best player in the world but we were able to win it for him and for all the Portuguese people.
“We knew France would be on top in terms of possession because they were playing at home but we also knew we could surprise them and that’s what we did. This was all about teamwork.”
Centre back Jose Fonte: “It defies description. This could be a Hollywood move. I have my background but it’s important for the country to enjoy this.
“We’ve written our names down in history and this goes out to our nation after what we’ve been through together, a lot of handship. Maybe in 100 years people will still be looking back on this.
“It was a very tough match. France have an amazing team with great quality. We had a setback when we lost the best player in the world but then we showed we have an amazing group. All of the players were able to come in and help us through.”
Midfielder Adrien Silva: “This is a reward for all our hard work. Despite all the criticism we had for the way we played, we stuck to our game plan. Our fans were fantastic, wherever we went, in the stadia, on the motorways. They made more noise tonight than the French.”
Rightback Cedric: “When Ronaldo was injured it was difficult but at half-time he talked to us about our unifying strength so this is also very much his victory because he has been important in so many ways, so many times. He’s amazing.”
Striker Nani: “We always said that we were candidates to win and we took this very seriously and were a terrific team regardless of not playing as expected but we managed to battle through and now its our moment to celebrate.”
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