A rollercoaster evening was in store for Cristiano Ronaldo at the Stade De France. He was the main attraction, it was his time. After 23 minutes, Ronaldo was weeping like a child after having his European final was cruelly ended. However, two hours later it was tears of joy as Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle for the last time to send Portugal into delirium.
The ‘Ronaldo final’ was not quite how we expected it. If Portugal were to beat the French hosts, many envisaged the Ballon D’Or holder scoring the winner and being draped in glory. Therefore, it was a devastating blow to see the the best player in world football have his greatest moment in a Portugal shirt cut short following a robust challenge from Dimitri Payet. Ronaldo emotionally departed from proceedings on a stretcher and not the shoulders of his team mates - But it was not to be the last we seen of him.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for Fernando Santos’ men. No Ronaldo, no trophy. The 31 year-old has won it all as a player, international success was the only blemish from a ladan trophy cabinet. It appeared that his chance to triumph with his country had agonisingly passed for a second time, after coming up short 12 years ago against Greece at Euro 2004. However, on this occasion, Portugal dug deep and found strength in adversity as they took a side to extra-time for the third time in the tournament.
Ronaldo emerged from the tunnel in the second half to rally his team mates and motivate his colleagues as he joined his manager and staff pitchside. Ronaldo could be seen barking instructions as he hobbled down the touchline, passionately supporting his players with every kick, tackle and header in an energy sapping 120 minutes of football which took its toll on players and supporters alike.
It was refreshing to see Portugal grow in the absence of their star man on the pitch as they went some way to diminishing their ‘one man team’ title. Therefore, when Eder, a Premier League flop at Swansea City, slammed home the winner past an outstretched Hugo Lloris, there could not have been a better time for him to announce himself on the world stage. Eder will be recognised as a national hero and held in the highest regard back home alongside his fellow international compatriots.
For many football fans, it is difficult to comprehend a country who finished third in a relatively weak group with only one win in 90 minutes to be considered worthy winners. However, you cannot fault the Portuguese effort and work rate as they took every opponent to the brink with their never say die attitude; which was epitomised in their performance on the biggest stage last night. Portugal had their backs against the wall and soaked up countless waves of French pressure. However, their back four stood firm when called upon with goalkeeper, Rui Patricio, taking the plaudits.
French danger man, Antoine Griezmann, was denied by a fantastic save by Patricio in the first half, before thwarting a further seven attempts on his goal as the pressure mounted. Every player in the Portugal side played their part in what was a collective effort brought by sheer determination, hard work and a little bit of luck.
Ronaldo has carried his country in the past, so it was a significant moment when the captain’s armband was placed back on his sleeve for the trophy presentation, as Portugal claimed an unlikely victory. It was only fitting for Ronaldo to be centre stage as he held the Euro 2016 trophy aloft in the French sky as Portugal clinched their first ever international trophy.
It is also worth noting the role that France played in the hosting of the Euro 2016 championship. Despite not having their fairytale ending, the French were fantastic hosts. Last night may have been Portugal’s final, but it was a unanimous victory for the country of France. Particularly in the wake of the devastating acts of terrorism inflicted on Paris earlier this year.
Euro 2016 has most definitely been the tournament of the underdog. Iceland and Wales captured the headlines as they stole the hearts and minds of fans around the world as they defied the odds. Northern Ireland gained supporters around the globe with their gritty displays, not to mention their infectious support about a certain Will Grigg being on fire. Likewise, Portugal were never expected to reach the final, so to see them come out on top through an unlikely hero was a resounding victory for the game of football.