Portugal was crowned Europe’s new champion of football yesterday (July 10) after upsetting France in their own home with a dramatic extra-time goal that gave the nation its first Euro and international title.
Éder was the unlikely hero, scoring a brilliant shot from outside the box at the 109th minute of overtime after a goalless 90 minutes of football.
The story is all the more spectacular as Portugal’s shining star Cristiano Ronaldo had to be substituted halfway through the first half after French midfielder Dimitri Payet crashed into CR7’s knee, leaving the national side to battle the rest of the game without its captain and most influential player.
But Fernando Santos’ men did not give up.
Though France was always the most offensive-minded team, Griezmann and company were rarely able to penetrate Portugal’s defence. When they did make it through, an outstanding Rui Patrício was there to keep all shots out of the goal.
France did have a golden chance to win the Euro 2016 tournament, but substitute Gignac scuffed his shot past ‘man-of-steel’ Patrício and onto the inside of the near post at the 91st minute of regular time.
By this time, Portugal’s “ugly duckling” Éder was already on the pitch.
The Lille striker – often criticised for his lack of goals with the Portuguese jersey (before the game he had just three goals in 28 games for Portugal) – had hardly played in this Euro but Fernando Santos knew this was his moment.
He came in for golden boy Renato Sanches at the 77th minute and his presence was immediately felt.
The 28-year-old striker was able to hold the ball in France’s midfield and offer more of an offensive threat than any other Portuguese player on the pitch.
Before entering the match, Éder allegedly told Fernando Santos that he was going to score the winning goal. And his determination to do so was evident when at the 109th minute of extra-time, when he brushed off pressure from the French defenders, galloped infield and knocked home an outstanding shot that Hugo Lloris could not stop.
Millions of Portuguese around the world erupted into celebrations, while French fans realised the title they so yearned to win at home was about to slip away.
The next 10 minutes saw France try to at least score an equaliser, but it was to no avail. This was Portugal’s year despite all the criticism and difficulties.
“We were as simple as doves and wise as serpents,” said manager Fernando Santos after the game.
“I’ve always said we’re a team. I never hide my thoughts and I always tell my players what’s on my mind.
“I’ve always told them we’ve got great talent but we need to fight more than our opponents, run more than them and be more concentrated than them. We have an amazing group. They’ve always believed what I told them: that we could win this.”
Santos also spoke about how Éder told him he was going to score.
“The ugly duckling went and did just that. Now he’s a beautiful swan.”
The 61-year-old coach also thanked Ronaldo for his role outside of the pitch in the final.
“Twice he tried to carry on but he couldn’t. Personally I think the referee should have shown a card (to Payet for his challenge), yet he didn’t even give a foul. Anyway the way Cristiano spoke to us and reached the lads, motivating them, in the changing room and on the pitch… he believed tonight was going to be our night.”
CR7’s words of encouragement were especially important to the hero of the match.
“Cristiano told me I would score the winning goal for the team,” Éder said.
“He gave me this strength, this energy, and it was vital. It was a goal I’ve been working for from the first minute of the Euro.”
Pepe, another of Portugal’s top performers in the tournament, said: “We put blood, sweat and tears on the pitch.”
“We represented our country as best we could. Regardless of those who doubted us, and the criticism we’ve had here in France for our performances, we had our goals set out for us and this was the goal.”
The Euro 2016 title was celebrated by Portuguese all around the world – all the way from São Tomé e Príncipe and Cape Verde to Macau and Timor-Leste.
In Portugal, the amount of people celebrating on the streets was incalculable. It was the moment the country was waiting ever since it was stunned at home by Greece in the final of the Euro 2004.
Lisbon’s Marquês de Pombal was filled to the brim with fans, while Algarve hotspots like Portimão’s Praia da Rocha saw cars and people on foot completely clogging streets.
Meantime, the new Portuguese heroes are expected to arrive 15 minutes after midday at Lisbon Airport.
They will be welcomed at Belém Palace afterwards to be honoured by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and then will take to Lisbon’s streets to celebrate with fans.
Photo: EPA/IAN LANGSDON