SAINT-DENIS, France – Portugal overcame the loss of injured captain Cristiano Ronaldo to beat France 1-0 in the European Championship final on Sunday, with a goal in extra time from substitute Eder securing their country’s first football title.
Just as the final looked destined for a penalty shootout, Eder cut through the French defense and struck a low shot from 25 yards past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 109th minute at the Stade de France.
Twelve years after losing to Greece on home soil in their last appearance in the final, it was Portugal’s turn to spoil the host nation’s party. And they achieved it after winning only one of their seven games at Euro 2016 inside 90 minutes, and after losing the inspirational Ronaldo midway through the first half.
“It was tough because we lost our main man and we had all our hopes pinned on him because he’s a player who can score a goal at any minute,” Portugal defender Pepe said. “When he said he couldn’t go on, I tried to tell my teammates that we have to win it for him. That we were going to fight for him.”
And they did.
Red and green confetti descended from the roof onto Ronaldo and his victorious teammates as supporters of the hosts flooded out of the stadium, denied a third victory on French soil to add to Euro ‘84 and the 1998 World Cup.
“Football can be very cruel,” said Lloris, France’s captain. “The overriding emotion is a lot of sadness.”
It was a mostly dull and stodgy final but the record books will only show that Portugal went from third-place in its group to champion, and with little help from Ronaldo in its last match.
European football’s biggest game lost its biggest name after 25 minutes of a cagey final on the outskirts of the French capital.
“Today I had bad luck because I had a small injury in the beginning of the teams, but my colleagues did their part – they run, they fight … nobody believed in Portugal but we won,” Ronaldo said.
After years of planning, the championship’s first 24-team tournament became a reality over the last month, but the quality of football deteriorated. Such a sterile showpiece – the first European Championship final to be scoreless after 90 minutes – seemed a fitting climax.
Even France forward Antoine Griezmann, the tournament’s leading scorer, couldn’t rise to the big occasion. There was no seventh goal of Euro 2016 from the Atletico Madrid forward, who also lost out in the Champions League final six weeks ago to Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.
Griezmann was the first player to find the target, but his header was tipped over by Rui Patricio, who was formidable in the Portugal goal. When an inviting cross from Kingsley Coman was delivered in the 66th, Griezmann missed with a free header.
Only once was Patricio beaten, when Andre-Pierre Gignac’s shot hit the inside of the post but it came back out.
Luck was on Portugal’s side, and Eder was able to strike the decisive blow.
For the unheralded striker, who plays in France for Lille, it was only his fourth goal in 29 appearances for Portugal.
“Cristiano told me I would be scoring the winning goal,” Eder said. “He gave me strength and positive energy.”
The energy didn’t seem to be going Portugal’s way in the ninth minute when Dimitri Payet’s right knee clattered into Ronaldo’s standing left leg.
Ronaldo went down in agony – writhing, grimacing and screaming. He was able to return, but this was one injury he could not run off.
Ronaldo fell to the turf again in the 17th. One of the moths infesting the national stadium fluttered over Ronaldo’s tearful right eye. Teammates tried to help in vain to help, with Nani tending to the knee.
Ronaldo watched the game forlornly on the touchline as strapping was attached before dragging himself back onto the field.
But Ronaldo’s mobility was restricted. Battling through the pain, regularly reaching down to check on the injury, Ronaldo realized there would be no miracle recovery.
The clock hit 23 minutes and Ronaldo ripped off his captain’s armband and tossed it on the turf. Slumping to the ground again, Ronaldo was consoled by Nani, who embraced his former Manchester United teammate as the armband was transferred.
The stretcher came on and in the 25th minute Ronaldo became a spectator. But thanks to Patricio’s array of saves and dogged defending, Ronaldo left a champion.
Ronaldo was the last to climb the steps up to the VIP area to collect the trophy from Angel Maria Villar, who has assumed UEFA’s presidential duties since Michel Platini was banned from football.
Unlike his great rival Lionel Messi, the Argentina and Barcelona forward, the 31-year-old Ronaldo has now filled the medal void on the major international stage.
“It’s something unbelievable in my career, something I deserve,” Ronaldo said.
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