Rui Patricio backstops Portugal to unlikely European Championship title
Portugal were crowned champions of Europe for the first time in their history after upsetting the odds to beat favourites France in Paris on Sunday.
All the historical indicators pointed toward a victory for Les Bleus. Portugal had been defeated by France three times in their three competitive meetings, and had lost the last 10 matches against them including friendlies. Moreover, on the five occasions A Selecao had faced the host country in World Cups and European Championships, they had lost all five matches.
When star man Cristiano Ronaldo got injured and left the pitch in tears after just 25 minutes, the task appeared even more insurmountable. But another titanic show of grit and determination, not to mention increasing composure as the match went on, got its reward when the most unlikely of heroes emerged. Eder had barely played in the tournament before the final, but his sensational winner in extra time ensures his name will forever be inscribed in the history of Portuguese football.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Rui Patricio, 9 -- Patricio capped an outstanding tournament with a man-of-the-match display in the final at Stade de France. He had already denied Antoine Griezmann and Moussa Sissoko with spectacular diving saves, but he topped those with a sensational reflex stop to prevent Olivier Giroud from scoring what surely would have been the winner late on. He was confident and secure when coming out to athletically claim a number of dangerous crosses.
DF Cedric Soares, 7 -- Like most of Portugal's side, Soares started nervously, and when he picked up a yellow card in the 34th minute his task of keeping France's attack at bay got even harder. But he kept his nerve, even when the lightning-fast Kingsley Coman was bearing down his side of the pitch in the second half, and he has surely made the Portugal right-back spot his own.
DF Pepe, 8 -- For the third time in the three knockout games he has played, Pepe was exceptional. Dominant and focused throughout, the one time he was beaten was when Andre-Pierre Gignac turned him cleverly and hit the post late on. Before and after the big Brazilian-born defender was equal to anything the French could throw at him.
DF Jose Fonte, 8 -- What a tournament for the Southampton captain. He only came into the side after the group stage, but he immediately formed a rock-solid partnership with Pepe. What he lacks in pace he makes up for in positioning and anticipation, constantly being in the right place at the right time to make vital interceptions on the floor or in the air.
DF Raphael Guerreiro, 8 -- Another player who has had a memorable tournament. It is incredible to think that had Fabio Coentrao been fit, Guerreiro probably would not even have made Portugal's Euro 2016 squad. The new Borussia Dortmund full-back defended stoutly, was lively whenever he ventured forward and was unlucky not to open the scoring when his brilliantly struck free kick smashed onto the underside of the bar in extra time.
MF Joao Mario, 8 -- Left his best for when it truly mattered. Joao Mario has had a largely underwhelming tournament, but he was excellent against France, showing impressive physical strength and stamina to compete with the powerful French midfield and help Portugal retain possession. Like most of the Portugal team, he got better and better as the match went on.
MF William Carvalho, 8 -- William did a fine job tracking Griezmann closely whenever the dangerous striker dropped deep, and got his foot in to nip dangerous French attacks in the bud on numerous occasions. His languid style can be heart-stopping at times, but rarely was he off target with his passing, even when time was at a premium in the congested midfield.
MF Adrien Silva, 6 -- He was expected to be given the task of keeping Paul Pogba quiet, but ended up trying to tie down the far more dangerous Sissoko, who was France's most incisive player on the night. Adrien struggled to control the powerful Newcastle midfielder in all honesty, but he stuck to the task tirelessly. His work may not have been eye-catching but the Sporting captain played a crucial role in Portugal winning Euro 2016.
MF Renato Sanches, 6 -- The teenage sensation did not have the best of end to the competition, with below-par performances in the semifinal and final, and on Sunday he sometimes looked unsure about exactly where he was supposed to be. That contrasts sharply to his superb contributions in the group stage and first knockout matches. Sanches was justly voted the Young Player of the Tournament and as he embarks on a new adventure at Bayern Munich, he has the world at his feet.
FW Nani, 9 -- Crowned a wonderful month with another display full of verve, skill and selfless running. He was a notable exception from the nervy start made by most of Portugal's players, having the first attempt at goal with a volley on the run that he couldn't keep down and buzzing all over the pitch effectively. He made sure he was involved all match, frequently dropping back to help out his defence when Portugal were coming under severe pressure, a task he carried out extremely effectively.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, NR -- The hearts of Portuguese fans sank as they saw their captain and talisman stretchered off in the final almost before it had started. He could not contribute on the pitch but he did his utmost to have an influence off it, acting as Fernando Santos' assistant in the dugout area, vociferously and energetically barking out instructions all game long. Nobody celebrated the victory more enthusiastically than Ronaldo, dispelling the notion he is more interested in personal adulation than team glory.
FW Ricardo Quaresma, 7 -- Came on earlier than expected and let nobody down. Starved of possession for long periods, he came into his own toward the end of normal time, testing Hugo Lloris's alertness with an audacious overhead kick and he was at the heart of a series of dangerous Portugal attacks in extra time.
MF Joao Moutinho, 8 -- Often a bruising encounter, the Euro 2016 final was apparently a match that would not suit Moutinho's neat passing game, but the diminutive midfielder was superb when he entered the fray. Immediately found his passing range as he scampered around the pitch, never giving possession away, and it is no coincidence that Portugal began to create serious danger only when the Monaco man was on the field. Provided the assist for Eder's winning goal.
FW Eder, 9 -- Much derided by Portuguese fans and critics in the past two years, Eder carved out a very special place for himself in the history of A Selecao with his stunning winner. But he did far more than score. The lanky Lille striker immediately made his presence felt when he came off the bench, winning a series of fouls, holding up the ball well and winning most of his aerial duels. His underprivileged background, having been brought up in a foster home, makes this one of the most heartwarming and inspirational rags-to-riches stories you will find in football.
Tom Kundert covers Portuguese football for ESPN FC. Twitter: @PortuGoal1.