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Eder's transformation from 'ugly duckling' to Portugal's Euro 2016 hero

To say that Eder's winner in the final of Euro 2016 against France was surprising would be a massive understatement. The Portugal striker is one of the unlikeliest heroes in football history, and that is especially true as far as fans in his homeland are concerned.

Ahead of the tournament, Eder was the least popular squad member by a distance.

"He was a bit of a laughing stock in Portugal," Expresso journalist Mariana Cabral told ESPN FC. "We have been used to mobile and technically sound strikers who score a lot of goals, like Pauleta, Nuno Gomes and Domingos. Eder pretty much never scored, and he is a bit clumsy."

Eder's record with the national team is indeed disappointing for a centre-forward, with just three goals in 28 games before Sunday -- all of them in friendlies.

The situation was so desperate that many fans demanded other strikers to be included in his place. The names of Hugo Vieira, who plies his trade for Red Star Belgrade in the weak Serbian League, and Bruno Moreira who has recently moved from the tiny Pacos Ferreira to Buriram United in Thailand were mentioned -- which clearly shows the lack of alternatives.

"The Portuguese have never rated Eder, because they saw him as a poor finisher," says Luis Catarino, who has been working as a Euro 2016 analyst for RTP TV.

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Swansea fans didn't even have much of a chance to witness his misses, and are probably more stunned than anyone to see the player discarded by their club so quickly becoming a European legend. The Swans bought Eder from Braga for £5 million last summer, but he wasn't given an opportunity to prove himself, only starting twice in the lineup, totalling a meagre 269 minutes of Premier League football and failing to find the net once.

"Even when Bafetimbi Gomis was suffering an extended goal drought, Eder was rarely used, and reasons were never made clear," ESPN FC's Swansea blogger Max Hicks explains. "Eder's performances ranged from enthusiastic to anonymous, but his involvement in the game naturally depended on the service from other players. He was never as poor as Gomis was allowed to be."

"Eder had been connected to Swansea when Michael Laudrup was in charge, so it feels safe to say that he wasn't Garry Monk's signing. He was marginalised by the manager who had his own favourites in the squad."

Eventually, the striker was loaned out to Lille in January and sold to the French outfit at a loss for about £3.4 million. The Ligue 1 side, however, were delighted to get a typical centre-forward they lacked in the squad.

"Eder is a warrior at the forefront of the attack," coach Frederic Antonetti said upon signing the striker. He wasn't disappointed. Lille's dreadful attacking record improved massively after Eder made his debut in February. The Portuguese scored six goals, and the team climbed from from 15th place to fifth, qualifying for Europa League instead of being involved in relegation battle.

That was still not enough as far as the national team was concerned, and fans in Portugal failed to be impressed by Eder's form in Ligue 1. Fernando Santos wasn't convinced as well, to put it mildly, and thus gambled on a truly revolutionary tactical change. Portugal have long played in a 4-3-3 formation, but -- without a proven centre-forward -- the coach switched to 4-4-2, with wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani playing in the middle.

The formation can be called Portugal's very own "Wingless Wonders", exactly 50 years since Alf Ramsey won the World Cup for England using innovative tactics without wide players. Eder had been almost irrelevant, only coming as a very late substitute against Iceland and Austria during the group stage.

And then -- totally out of the blue -- he was given the chance to shine on the biggest stage of them all when Ronaldo had to come off injured in the first half and replaced Renato Sanches in the 79th minute with the score still 0-0. France never realised the danger he posed, and Eder hit a brilliant shot in extra time, winning the trophy.

"Cristiano Ronaldo told me I would be scoring the winning goal. Ever since Fernando Santos called me up, I thought my opportunity would come," Eder revealed after the match, while his coach added: "Eder was an ugly duckling, but now he is a beautiful swan."

So who is this wonderful swan rejected by Swansea? Eder's life story is rather unique and intriguing. Born in Guinea-Bissau, he was brought to Portugal at the age of three. His parents were unable to take care of him, and grew up at the Lar de Girassol institution at the outskirts of Coimbra. Eder was often in trouble there because of his love for football, but finally his talent was recognised and he was allowed to attend a local academy.

At 18, Eder signed his first contract at the second division Tourizense for a monthly salary of €400, that he duly sent to his mother. By 2008, he was back in Coimbra, joining Academia and, during his time at the club, he was nicknamed "Ederbayor" for his physical similarities to Togo star Emmanuel Adebayor.

It is, therefore, quite ironic that Tottenham considered signing Eder as a replacement for Adebayor in 2013. During the 2009-10 season, Andre Villas-Boas worked at Academica and reportedly rated the striker very highly, despite the fact he only found the net four times that term.

In the summer of 2012, Eder moved to Braga and started scoring at will, with 13 goals in 18 league fixtures, while playing well in the Champions League too -- most notably against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Villas Boas -- Tottenham manager at the time -- singled out his old protege as one of the major transfer targets, but then disaster struck.

Eder
Unfancied prior to the tournament, Eder scored the goal that won Portugal the European Championship.

In February 2013, before the Spurs had started any negotiations with Braga, the striker tore his cruciate ligaments. His promising career was in danger and he missed a huge part of the 2013-14 season. Braga once gave him a contract with a release clause standing at a whopping €30m, but were quite happy to let the striker go for a much lower fee to Swansea, after a reasonably good 2014-15 season with 13 goals in all competitions.

That seemed to be Eder's best opportunity to prove himself in the Premier League. Once linked to the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool and destined to be Portugal's big hope, he had to be content with Swansea in order to fulfil his lifelong dream of playing in England. However, even that didn't work out, and the striker left for France, disappointed and heartbroken.

Little did he know that just a few months later, he would make the biggest headlines imaginable and beat France. Now, at the age of 28, he will finally get some recognition with the fans who never really believed in him.

As for Swansea, they will be sad that they opted to sell Eder in May. His price tag is much higher now that he has become the ultimate hero at the European Championship.

Eder is much more than "Ederbayor" now. He has written his name in history books in golden letters.

Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC's European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin

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