Wednesday 7 December 2016

Portugal rise above Ronaldo injury to ruin French party

Swansea reject Eder fires extra-time winner after talisman limps off early

Jason Burt

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Cristiano Ronaldo leads the Portugal celebrations. Photo: Carl Recine
Cristiano Ronaldo leads the Portugal celebrations. Photo: Carl Recine
Eder celebrates after scoring the winner for Portugal. Photo: Charles Platiau
Pepe of Portugal celebrates after his team's 1-0 win against France. Photo: Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo poses with the trophy after the team's 1-0 win against France. Photo: Getty Images

In the underdogs' European Championship, the underdogs are the top dogs.

France 0 Portugal 1

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Portugal beat the hosts and overwhelming favourites, they defeated the odds, defeated the fact they were without their captain and talisman, with Cristiano Ronaldo carried off injured, to win their first major tournament.

The only goal came deep in extra-time from substitute Eder, who flopped at Swansea City and now plays in France, and who instantly became a national hero as he held off Laurent Koscielny to beat Hugo Lloris with a powerful low shot from 25 yards.

For France this was a shuddering, despairing jolt to their dreams of winning a tournament on home soil for a third successive time. Instead, in a poor final, they failed.

After 50 matches, 107 goals and more than 2.3 million spectators in 10 host cities the final arrived; back where it all began on June 10 when France nervously took on Romania.

Their confidence has sky-rocketed since then, especially after the semi-final triumph in a febrile Marseille against Germany. A team has emerged, new heroes also, and a sense of expectation that France were heading towards a destined goal.

Golden

Portugal had also improved. After finishing third in their group, a group they should have dominated, they ground their way to this final and knew this was, after the disappointments of the Golden Generation, their golden opportunity.

It was there in their faces, in the pumped-up pose of Ronaldo - how sad that was to prove - but it was matched by French desire.

Patrice Evra, the veteran, the 'uncle' of this team, had gone from player to player in the warm-up, hammering it home. As if it were needed.

The opening was predictable. France hurtled into it, with Paul Pogba slashing at a volley from the edge of the penalty area and Blaise Matuidi winning a header, from which the ball dropped to Antoine Griezmann, who sliced his shot into the side-netting.

Read More: Sharper mind of Santos inspires Portuguese to their finest hour

He soon did far better in forcing a superb one-handed save by Rui Patricio, who pushed the looping header over as he quickly adjusted his feet.

Pogba, Dimitri Payet and, in particular, Moussa Sissoko all went for it as coach Didier Deschamps rightly demanded a quick start; an immediate impact.

There was more concern for Portugal coach Fernando Santos. Nani chested down a clever long ball forward by Cedric Soares and half-volleyed over but then Payet caught Ronaldo in a block tackle, with the captain falling in pain, clearly hurt.

Santos ran his fingers through his hair; it did not look good. Ronaldo returned but could not run easily. He looked in discomfort but was not going to go off, until he crumpled to the turf. His eyes welled up.

Portugal readied Ricardo Quaresma but Ronaldo's left knee was strapped up and he came back on.

It was only a matter of time, though. Ronaldo had the ball but could not run and, finally, belatedly - and, let us hope, without having caused any further damage - the stretcher was called.

This time the tears really flowed. The stadium was in unison to applaud him off, but the injury affected the flow of the contest.

The exception was Sissoko, who was becoming the dominant figure, and when Payet pushed the ball inside to him he dummied and then twisted to strike a fierce right-foot shot that Patricio beat out. Before that he had run through, only to fire over.

But Portugal were typically dogged. Pepe and Jose Fonte formed a formidable central defence, with William Carvalho stationed in front of them.

In goal Patricio appeared formidable and it headed towards half-time with the underdogs confident and threatening through Nani, Renato Sanches and Joao Mario on the counter-attack.

Read More: Far from vintage football but dreams became reality

Their fans had also redoubled their efforts. They kept up their constant chanting, the reprise of the national anthem and reminded everyone that Paris has the biggest Portuguese community outside their homeland.

The game was disrupted by Ronaldo's injury. The problem for France was that the longer it went on without them scoring, the more the nerves would begin to develop and the more Portugal would hope that the familiar pattern that had taken them this far would emerge again.

France needed to move the ball quicker, needed to try and involve Olivier Giroud and needed to try and shift that triangle of Pepe, Fonte and Carvalho out of shape. It was proving very difficult as time and again moves broke down on the edge of the Portuguese area.

Deschamps had not been afraid to change it in the past and was clearly pondering another move as Pogba struck a shot from distance over. Kingsley Coman was called for, with Payet departing, having appeared affected by the Ronaldo incident.

Coman's first involvement was positive - slipping a pass to the overlapping Griezmann, but the angled, low shot was not strong enough to beat Patricio.

The impatience grew, with the French supporters sensing that Portugal, ever deeper, ever more reliant on the breakaway, were running down the clock as they slowly moved the ball across the pitch.

"Allez Les Bleus," was the cry. They needed something to happen.

Deadlock

It was the first final of a European Championships to be goalless after an hour but the deadlock should then have been broken as Coman picked out Griezmann again, this time with a curling cross, but the striker got under his close-range header and the ball flew over.

Coman had made a difference and he created another chance, but although Giroud gained more ferocity in the shot, Patricio again repelled it.

Finally Portugal mustered an effort on target with Lloris clawing out Nani's deflected cross and then holding on to Quaresma's scissor-kick.

At the other end Patricio excelled himself as he threw himself to push out a crisp drive from 30 yards by Sissoko.

Read More: Unsatisfactory end to Cristiano's coup de grace

No-one could fault the effort - not least from the fans, the noise did not stop - and there was one more opportunity before extra-time, with substitute André-Pierre Gignac turning nimbly, from another Coman cross, to create space, only to scuff a shot that still beat Patricio but came back out off the near post.

It would be extra-time. Pepe flashed a header narrowly wide before a free-kick by Raphael Guerreiro thumped back off the bar with Lloris beaten.

Portugal, with that extra day's break after the semi-finals, were in the ascendant - and then Eder struck. Portugal won just one of seven matches in normal time. But they are champions.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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