The Seleção are champions of Europe! A nervy and tense atmosphere in Stade de France (Paris) ends with tears of joy for a Portuguese team who left the group stage as one of the best third placed teams.
From the first blast of the whistle by Mark Clattenburg (England) the game looked set to be an entertaining encounter. Both sides tore at each other with France dominating possession and looking the most likely to score.
Portugal’s chances looked bleak when star-man Cristiano Ronaldo got bagged into by Dimitri Payet in a knee shattering tackle, the resulting effect was that the Portuguese skipper would get carried out on a stretcher amidst tears 5 minutes later (Ronaldo was substituted by Ricardo Quaresma).
The Portuguese fans who had their hands on their heads after Ronaldo’s substitution will have to wait for two hours to see the disguised blessing of that substitution. It became clear that deputy captain Nani as well as other members of the Seleção had raised their game to fill the inevitable void that was left by the three time Ballon d’Or winner.
France, meanwhile, would heave a huge sigh of relief after Ronaldo’s exit, it is never a pleasant situation to have a player of the calibre of Ronaldo mount pressure on your back-line on a day that victory would mean a spot on the history books.
As the game progressed, France continued their ceaseless pressing and attack while Portugal were content just to sit back, soak the pressure and mount occasional counter attacks in search of a breakthrough.
This tournament’s eventual golden shoe winner, Antoine Griezmann, came closest for France with a dipping header from a delightful cross by Payet. Griezmann’s header was acrobatically saved by Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal.
Halftime came with both teams still tied in a scoreless draw.
After the resumption of hostilities, France’s Moussa Sissoko who ran rampant all game through the Portuguese midfield, managed to draw a fine save from Patricio with a shot that kept moving away from the Portuguese keeper.
Griezmann then missed a sitter when he steered his header wide from 4 yards out, after a delightful cross from Bayern’s Kingsley Coman. Olivier Giroud’s fine shot was denied by the outstretched arms of Patricio moments later. That would be Giroud’s last meaningful contribution for France before getting substituted by Gignac.
The substitute striker would later miss France’s best chance of the match in the closing stages after hitting the woodwork with a low drive.
Nani almost made it 1-0 for Portugal after trying a dummy cross that nearly caught out Hugo Lloris in the French goal. The Spurs keeper managed to save brilliantly but could only push the ball into the path of Quaresma, who instinctively tried a bicycle kick but to no avail as the Frenchman caught it comfortably.
Mark Clattenburg then made a blatant and uncharacteristic mistake in extra-time by awarding a free-kick against France for a supposed hand ball by Koscielny. The English referee yellow-carded the Frenchman for the foul, and it was later discovered that Eder was the real culprit of this incident as he clearly handled the ball. Raphael Guerreiro stepped up and sent his free-kick crashing on the upright, that would be Portugal’s best chance of the match yet.
3 minutes later with just 10 minutes left of extra time, Eder broke French hearts by running through the French defence and dispatching a low shot that had too much pace and accuracy for even a keeper like Lloris to save.
Les Bleus would claw and fight in search of an equalizer but in the end it would be a Portuguese team cheered on from the bench by a ‘limping Ronaldo’ who would celebrate deep into the night with a 1-0 victory and an elusive international piece of silverware.