POR 1 v 0 FRA AET – the final of a major competition in this day and age is more often than not a disappointment as the fear of losing takes hold of even the best footballers. What further compounded the quality of this final was the loss of one of the world’s best through injury – Cristiano Ronaldo, a talisman for both Real Madrid and his country, broke down with a knee injury after 25 minutes after an innocuous challenge from Dimitri Payet. Les Bleus came out with a passion and determination that had Portugal on the ropes early on – Sporting CP keeper Rui Patrício tipping the ball over the bar from an Antoine Griezmann looping header after smart wing play from Moussa Sissoko. After Ronaldo departed, the A Seleção das Quinas looked much livelier but the truth is that the first half was terrible, instantly forgettable as a labouring French side struggled to cause any problems for a dogged, stubborn Portuguese defence. Paul Pogba‘s tournament has been a shambles, his dozen step-overs failing to trick Cédric, who nicked the ball off him as the Juventus star looked to the heavens, perfectly summing up his tournament and France’s first half! The game suited Portugal as their reserved style soaked up the French pressure and they waited for an opportunity on the counter. In a game where a free kick or set piece may be the difference, Didier Deschamps inexplicably decided to haul off Payet early in the second half. Pogba should have been replaced. Young Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman did have an immediate affect on the game – his cross from the right was pin-point for Griezmann who flashed his header over from 6 yards, the best chance of the game. More intricate play from Coman saw him slip the ball through to Olivier Giroud, anonymous for most of the evening, but Patricio was equal to his strike and parried the ball away. The game came alive in the last moments of the second half as a teasing cross-shot from Nani nearly caught out Hugo Lloris, while up the other end a long range strike from Moussa Sissoko brought another good save from Patricio. André-Pierre Gignac could have won it for France in stoppage time as he left Pepe for dead with a smart turn, but he scuffed his shot against the post and extra time, unsurprisingly, became a formality. The best player on the park, Raphaël Guerreiro, struck the crossbar from a brilliant left-footed free kick as Portugal had the better of the extra time period. Step up the unlikeliest of heroes – Lille‘s Portuguese striker Éder, who shrugged off Laurent Koscielny and fired a stunning drive past Lloris from fully 25 yards – a great strike! The striker’s first goal in a competitive international in his 29 caps. Remarkable. Portugal are European Champions, nobody saw it coming! It has been that sort of tournament. A competition that pitted a few expressive, talented, footballing teams against many organised, defensive, stubborn sides. A reflection of most European leagues, the Champions League, and world football. The tournament unearthed a fair few diamonds in the rough in terms of players, a celebration of the professionalism of many footballers across Europe. It wasn’t a tournament for the stars, the big-money players, the over-hyped. And it was fitting that Portugal did it without the man who everyone thought carried their only hope.
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