In a war of attrition and with Ronaldo fallen, it was fitting Portugal were the last men standing at Euro 2016
It was a fitting final, a match that went on for too long in a tournament that went on for too long.
It had fitting winners, too: Portugal called upon their resolve, their resilience and their powers of recovery to lift their first major silverware. Euro 2016 did not have an outstanding team but, in Portugal, undistinguished but unbeaten, they had one who were still standing when 23 others were eliminated.
It was a war of attrition and Portugal won it.
They may be destined to be unloved winners outside their homeland, much as Greece were when they pulled off a surprise to win Euro 2004. That was at Portugal’s expense and, a dozen years later and under a former Greece manager, in Fernando Santos, they can savour the sense that history has repeated itself.
Hosts were defeated in the final by unfancied outsiders. It was an ugly 1-0 win, but the most important in Portugal’s history.
More Euro 2016 final
• In pictures: Moths, Cristiano Ronaldo’s pain and Eder’s joy
• Portugal win: Audacious Eder the hero in extra time
• Ian Hawkey: Portugal showed pluck to win it without Ronaldo
It was somehow appropriate that they won without Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal’s record scorer played barely 20 per cent of the 120 minutes at the Stade de France, their hopes seemingly going the way of their crying captain on a stretcher.
Instead, they illustrated their formidable determination and their redoubtable defensive organisation to keep a clean sheet as Ronaldo, leg strapped, urged them on from the technical area.
And, summing up a tournament where there have been some improbable success stories, the silverware came courtesy not of Ronaldo, one of the all-time greats, but Eder, a man who failed to score a goal for Swansea City last season, the forward who was not even the best Eder at Euro 2016, a mantle that belonged with the Italy striker.
Yet the substitute drilled in a 109th-minute decider with unerring accuracy.
There was an irony in the match-winner being the one out-and-out centre forward in their squad. Portugal had eventually come to the conclusion that their strikers were so wretched they disposed of them altogether and just picked wingers in attack.
They have been the country of Ronaldo, Nani and Ricardo Quaresma. And, when Ronaldo went off, any plan they had to score seemed to depart with him.
Portugal appeared to be playing for penalties for the best part of two hours. They did not record a shot on target for 80 minutes. Then Raphael Guerreiro eventually hit the bar and, a minute later, Eder stunned France.
The game was barely watchable, but the tale of the triumph contains many a wonderful story, and not just Eder’s sudden transformation from impotent to unstoppable.
Jose Fonte was playing in League One six years ago and uncapped until he was 31. His Southampton teammate Cedric Soares was not even in the Saints team for parts of last season. Left-back Guerreiro and midfielder Adrien Silva were born in France.
Ronaldo and the reserve centre-back Ricardo Carvalho, part of the team beaten by Greece 12 years ago, belatedly claimed their winners’ medals.
The bare facts are that Portugal only won one game within 90 minutes in Euro 2016. They only led for 73 minutes in total.
Yet it is true, too, that they only conceded once in 450 minutes in the knockout stages. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio was excellent against France. Pepe, so often the pantomime villain, was outstanding. Defensive midfielder William Carvalho was cynically ruthless. He and his colleagues were enviably fit. They had the mental strength to weather Ronaldo’s exit.
Dimitri Payet began the tournament with a spectacular winner against Romania. He concluded it with another destructive impact; Ronaldo’s studs seem to stick in the turf as Payet clattered into him. He attempted to return, only to fling the captain’s armband to the floor in frustration when he realised he was unable to play on.
He was stretchered off in tears. His departure was greeted with Schadenfreude; it should not have been.
Ronaldo’s ego may be gigantic, but his commitment to his country’s cause has been a constant.
He played a bit-part triumph in their eventual triumph, but it seemed to mean more than any of the three Champions Leagues he has won with Manchester United and Real Madrid. Deservedly, he will go down in history as the man who lifted Portugal’s first trophy.
Ludicrously, Eder was the man who ensured they won it.
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Updated: July 11, 2016 04:00 AM