Eder scores winning goal as Portugal stun France to win Euro 2016
SAINT-DENIS, France -- Cristiano Ronaldo came off in the opening half-hour, but Portugal battled and beat France 1-0 to win Euro 2016 in extra time. Here are three quick thoughts from a tense final ...
1. Eder stuns France to win Euro 2016
Portugal have won Euro 2016, and they owe it all to the unlikeliest of heroes. A stunning extra-time winner from Eder, who failed to score in 15 appearances for Swansea City last season, gave an unpredictable tournament a finish nobody could have expected and sent the Stade de France, which had been preparing for a night of celebration, into a state of disbelief.
Eder's 109th-minute goal was brilliantly taken. He had impressed since replacing Renato Sanches in the second half but had few options when he received the ball out on the left, closely marked by Laurent Koscielny. Eder marauded infield and then, from 25 yards, cracked a powerful, accurate shot to Hugo Lloris' right. It was a bolt from the blue, and one that deserved to win any final.
Back when everything seemed rosy and optimistic, the French had started at a ferocious tempo. A swarm of moths had curiously descended upon the stadium prior to the game, and the hosts set about Portugal in similar fashion. France came close to an early goal when Antoine Griezmann's looped header from a fine Dimitri Payet pass was denied by an acrobatic, arching tip-over from Rui Patricio.
The Payet challenge on Ronaldo that ultimately ended his final within 25 minutes encapsulated the zeal with which France set about their task. Yet the pace of their pressing dropped after Ronaldo's departure: two Moussa Sissoko shots were the sum total of their attacking endeavours for the rest of the half. Portugal, however, saw things through until half-time in relative comfort.
It took 21 minutes of the second half for a clear chance to arise; Griezmann squandered it, almost unbelievably so given the form he is in. Substitute Kingsley Coman's cross from the left was perfect and Griezmann's leap was well-timed, but, from the kind of position that has brought two of his goals this summer, he planted a free header over the bar.
History was failing to repeat itself. In the 75th minute, Olivier Giroud, played through by Coman in a near identical spot to the one that brought a goal against Iceland, saw Rui Patricio turn away Giroud's angled effort.
Portugal's threat had been sporadic, barring a few forays down the wings. They caused alarm 10 minutes from time, when Nani's miscued cross was clawed out from under the bar by Hugo Lloris, who recovered to catch Ricardo Quaresma's overhead kick from the loose ball. Sissoko was then denied from range by the excellent Patricio save before France thought they had won it two minutes into added time. Andre-Pierre Gignac, on for Giroud, twisted Pepe inside out before drilling a shot from the corner of the six-yard box that smacked the inside of the near post before rolling across goal.
When Raphael Guerreiro's free kick hit the bar early in the second period of a generally flat extra-time period, penalties seemed inevitable. Then came Eder's incredible intervention and, against all odds, Portugal's finest hour had come.
2. Ronaldo's woe turns to joy
How the mood of an evening can turn. Ronaldo left the pitch injured just 25 minutes in, receiving an ovation from the entire stadium, but it was nothing like the one he had hoped for. Portugal's captain departed on a stretcher, visibly devastated, tears streaming down his cheeks as he handed the armband to Nani. Ronaldo knew what this meant; this may well have been his last chance to win a European Championship with his country.
Two hours later, he was hopping around the technical area like a man possessed, directing traffic like a second manager. He had wandered down the touchline on his own after Eder's goal, covering his face and clearly unable to compute the magnitude of what was about to happen. Although he barely had been able to contribute to the game, Ronaldo was stretching every sinew.
Referee Mark Clattenburg will not want to look again at the eighth-minute challenge by Payet that ended Ronaldo's night. Payet took the ball, but the tackle was dangerous, his right knee following through into Ronaldo's left. It left the Real Madrid star in clear pain and, after 17 further minutes of evident discomfort, his race was run.
The injury certainly slowed the game down, although it didn't prevent Cedric Soares from exacting some revenge on Payet with a challenge that rightly earned him a yellow card. Payet, whose own impact had dulled, was replaced by Coman shortly before the hour to boos from the Portugal supporters.
Ronaldo returned to the pitch before extra time began, offering words of encouragement to his teammates. That is a captain's natural job, but it was a reminder that Ronaldo's leadership has done him credit in this tournament -- as witnessed when urging Joao Moutinho to take a penalty in their quarterfinal with Poland.
In the end, his tears were those of joy. It was hard not to feel that after his crushing blow earlier in the evening; Ronaldo had been vindicated.
3. Sissoko shines but French stars fail to deliver
France had looked to Griezmann, Payet and Paul Pogba for inspiration in Sunday's final, but all three were subdued in defeat. Perhaps it said much that their best player on a devastating night currently plies his trade for a club in the English Championship.
The term "enigma" might have been invented for Moussa Sissoko. In theory, the Newcastle midfielder has everything: technique, vision and astonishing physical potential. Yet he has a tendency to look as if he is operating in second gear, something that invites scrutiny when your team is battling relegation. But Sissoko played this final as if his life depended on it.
France's lightning-quick start owed plenty to the zest of their No. 18, who was nominally stationed on the right but turned up all over the pitch. Even as the intensity ebbed, it was Sissoko who carried Les Bleus' primary first-half threat. One turn inside the left-hand corner of the area, creating space for a shot that Patricio parried, was quite breathtaking; it was one of several runs that ate up the yards and resulted in another effort being deflected over.
Sissoko's energy was unstinting, and his all-round effort was summed up 17 minutes from the end of normal time, when he chased back 50 yards to win the ball cleanly from Renato Sanches, who had broken upfield after a France corner. He then came close to a winning goal that would have been as deserved as it might have been implausible -- a surge into open space finished with a firm 25-yard effort that was destined for the far corner before Patricio, at full stretch, punched to his right.
Ultimately, the night's hero was wearing Portuguese colours. Sissoko had stepped up when many of his teammates did not; this performance will have done his career prospects little harm, but that will be cold comfort now.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.