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If Portugal were considered massive underdogs heading into the final against France, then the premature loss of captain Cristiano Ronaldo reduced them to mere poodles.
Dimitri Payet’s stray leg inadvertently caught Ronaldo’s left knee in the seventh minute, injuring him in the process.
The Portuguese skipper tried shaking it off but was forced off midway through the first half. Dejected and disconsolate, a tearful Ronaldo was stretchered off in the 25th minute amid sympathetic applause from teammates and opponents alike.
Portugal more than ever felt they owed their skipper and all-time goal scorer a deserving performance, if not a win.
With everyone rallying behind them following the injury set back, Fernando Santos’s charges managed to hang on albeit after shaking off several stings of attacks from the home side.
By extra-time it was quite barefaced that the French team had jaded legs, and the home advantage soon transformed to immediate frustration.
In the end, the Portuguese were more clinical and wrapped up their erratic campaign with a 1-0 victory over France through Eder.
Here are three key observations from the final.
Ronaldo integral off the pitch
Cristiano Ronaldo may have only played for 25 of the 120 minutes, but the skipper played a very intricate role in motivating his physically and psychologically exhausted teammates.
After fighting his own demons following his enforced change, a sober, more focused Ronaldo came back to the technical area to provide the reassurance and much needed lift for his side.
His endeavor paid off as Eder’s attempt at buying a ticket won him the raffle instead, as his long range effort whizzed past Hugo Lloris and into the back of the net.
The sequence of events was perhaps written in the stars as Cristiano Ronaldo- with his knee heavily strapped- went on to lift the much fancied European Championship at the Stade de France.
The win becomes Portugal’s and Ronaldo’s first ever trophy in a competitive tournament for his country.
Super sub performance by Eder
Joao Moutinho’s presence at center of the park saw Portugal keep most of the ball, but finals are not won by possession: neither are most football matches after the post Spanish dominance of world football.
As such, when Eder came on for Renato Sanches in the 79th minute, he was Portugal’s last hope at gaining sight of goal, with Luis Nani playing in a much deeper role.
A Swansea player who spent most of 2016 on loan to Lille, no doubt the goal will attract suitors from bigger clubs.
Deschamps tactics recoil
Didier Deschamps may have won the World Cup and European championship with France as a player, but his tactics against Portugal hit a brick wall.
Paul Pogba played in a deeper, much ineffectual role while Anthony Martial was only brought on after going a goal down with ten minutes left on the clock: it proved to be a huge ask as even the individual brilliance of the Manchester United forward wasn’t enough to turn the game on its head.
Nonetheless, better days lie ahead for Les Bleus who still a youthful, talented squad.
Written by Brian Humphrey
Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum
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