The battle for Paris ended with Portugal coming out as winners as hosts France were left wondering what could have been, after the end of the 2016 European Championship final on Sunday night.
In a final that was closely contested between two sides that did not want to commit an error, it was Eder’s brilliant strike on the 109th minute, that gave Portugal the victory. However, the match was not devoid of emotions, as a tearful Cristiano Ronaldo had to be stretchered off after the Real Madrid star injured his left knee in the first half.
Meanwhile, it is back to the drawing board for the French, who failed to conjure up a win, despite being the overwhelming favourites. On that note, we at TheHardTackle take a look at the key points from last night’s match.
Sturdy Portugal defence thwarts French attackers
Portugal might have been boring, they might have played a rather drab form of football during the tournament, but barring the group stage match against Hungary, they have been very compact in defence. Playing a variation of the diamond formation, Fernando Santos had managed to figure out a way to keep the opposition attackers out.
The Portuguese did exactly the same in the final, as they completely shut the French attackers out. The likes of Olivier Giroud, and Dimitri Payet were completely neutralised by Jose Fonte and Cedric Soares. Meanwhile, France’s talismanic midfielder Paul Pogba, was operating from a deeper position than usual, which kept him from getting into positions from which he could affect the game.
Sissoko, Griezmann shine but Patricio steals the show
The only two players who were actually able to cause Portugal some problems were Moussa Sissoko and Antoine Griezmann. Sissoko was especially brilliant and showed an exceptional work-rate during the match. His lung-bursting runs from France’s defensive third to Portugal’s box caused Santos’ side a lot of problems. The Newcastle United man also kept a passing accuracy of 89 per cent during the game.
However, the main star of the show on the night for Portugal was their goalkeeper Rui Patricio. The Portuguese defence were thwarting the French attacks quite comfortably during most of the match. On the few occasions when the French did manage to get the better of the Portuguese defence, Patricio bailed the Seleçao out and kept the scores level. The Sporting Lisbon goalkeeper made seven crucial saves during the entire match.
Poor team selection and substitutions by Deschamps
Although Moussa Sissoko performed well during the match, Didier Deschamps’ decision to bench Leicester City midfielder Kante came back to haunt him as France missed the defensive cover that he gave. The hosts enjoyed 56 per cent possession of the ball, but it was the Portuguese, who attacked on the counter with a lot of purpose and intent, who emerged victorious. Sissoko, who made forward runs, was often caught out of position when the Portuguese launched their dangerous counter attacks.
Another thing that Deschamps got terribly wrong was the changes that he made during the game. The former Juventus and Chelsea midfielder made a couple of very poor substitutions, that potentially took the game away from Le Bleus. Kingsley Coman looked lively during the game but was largely ineffective. He failed to register any shots on target, and also ended up being dispossessed four times during his 62 minutes on the pitch.
Another poor decision that Deschamps took was to bring on Andre-Pierre Gignac instead of Olivier Giroud. The Arsenal forward was a viable aerial threat for the French, but Gignac, who plies his trade with Tigres UANL in Mexico, failed to provide France with any kind of physical presence up front. The 30-year old also failed to hold the ball up for the hosts, ending up with a shambolic pass success rate of 60 per cent. His only contribution during the whole game was hitting the woodwork in injury time of regulation time. Needless to say, scoring the goal at that point would definitely have earned France their second European Championship.
However, Deschamps’ biggest mistake of the game (arguably), was not bringing on Manchester United forward Anthony Martial earlier in the match. The France manager only realised his mistake deep into extra time, after Eder scored the winning goal for Portugal. By then, Martial had only 10 minutes to affect the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo: The coach that Portugal needs
It was a bit of a disappointing night for Ronaldo, as he was stretchered off the pitch in the 25th minute, following a heavy tackle from Dimitri Payet. Contrary to the anticipation of many Portugal fans, the Real Madrid star was not able to provide the finishing touch to the most famous Portugal victory of them all.
However, what Ronaldo couldn’t do on the pitch, he did off it, as he came back out of the dugout in extra time, to egg his teammates on. The Real Madrid star wasted no time during the switchovers, to give little pep-talks to his teammates. He was also seen anxiously prowling the touchline, barking instructions at his teammates, and constantly indicating referee Mark Clattenburg to keep track of how much time was left in the match, after Eder’s goal.
Santos’ clever use of the young Portuguese players
Portugal were rank outsiders with regard to winning the 2016 European Championships. In fact, they had a much better chance of winning the trophy 12 years back, when they had one of the strongest squads in the competition and were playing as hosts as well. This time though, their squad strength was nowhere near to what they had in 2004. However, head coach Fernando Santos was shrewd enough to inculcate players from Portugal’s U-21 team that ended up as the runners-up of the U-21 European Championships in the Czech Republic, last year.
Santos brought a number of those young players into the Portugal squad this time round to set up a solid unit that did not give much space to their oppositions. The likes of Joao Mario, Raphael Guerreiro, and winner of the Player of the Tournament award at last year’s U-21 Championships William Carvalho played a crucial role in helping Portugal to this historic win.