The setting was perfect as more than 80000 spectators took their seats at Saint-Denis’ Stade de France just outside Paris. They keenly awaited the start of 2016 Euro Cup final between France and Portugal. The excitement was palpable even without the match having begun. Though the French constituted the majority of viewers, there were large sections of supporters, dressed in red Portuguese shirts. It was truly a great ensemble of blue and red and they all wanted their heroes to win the match. It didn’t matter to Portugal that they couldn’t beat France even once in their 10 matches, going all the way back to 1970s. Without worrying about who did what in the past, Portugal took the field with determination. They began the proceeding in high spirits by launching two attacks at the French goal but when their prima-donna Cristiano Ronaldo fell down and suffered an injury, they were rudely jolted. Ronaldo left the field first in the 17th minute but came back soon to the delight of Portuguese supporters but he couldn’t survive more than the next 7 minutes and had to go off for good. On a day like this, nothing could have hurt Portugal more. Amazingly, however, they not only endured Ronaldo’s absence, but made history by winning the Euro Championship for the first time in football history.
After the national anthems of both countries, the match started on offensive note from both ends. Portugal was first to mount the attack as Cedric sent a long floating pass to Nani, who almost scored in the 4th minute but his sizzling 15-yard volley sailed over the bar. 2 minutes later, it was France’s turn, when Fonte’s headed clearance fell in Sissoko’s path but the Frenchman lobbed the ball too high. In the 7th minute, Antoine Griezmann’s half volley went wide off the far post. In the 8th minute, Ronaldo fell on the ground in a strong challenge by Payet but he was back in action after some light treatment. 10th minute saw two great saves from Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Pepe had passed to Payet, whose delectable angled pass found Griezmann. But a brilliant header from the French no.7 was saved by Patricio. A few seconds later, Patricio made another save, when Giroud headed from the resulting corner. In the 17th minute, Ronaldo lay sprawled once again. The pain showed on his face and he had to be taken out of the ground. For a couple of minutes, Portugal played with 10 men but Ronaldo jogged back to the field with a heavily strapped knee. The wobble was clear and Ronaldo couldn’t run and reach the passes meant for him. In 24th minute, Ronaldo threw his captain’s armband to the floor in frustration. Now he needed a stretcher. Before that, Ronaldo tied the armband on Nani and his role in the match was over. Ricardo Quaresma came on the field instead.
While Portugal were expected to be worse off with Ronaldo’s departure, it was France, who surprisingly lost the attacking tempo in the aftermath. Both teams lost possession regularly and none of custodians were threatened. In 37th minute, Nani’s pass inside the box was wasted by Adrien Silva. Portugal ran into another problem with Quaresma getting injured. Then France had a chance in the 41st minute, but Payet’s shot was blocked by Pepe. Soon it was halftime with the score reading 0-0.
The second session began with Portugal defending their goal in the face of some promising attack by France. Patricio thwarted a French header from a corner in 53rd minute. Portugal were pushed back and couldn’t enter the French half until a wasted corner in the 56th minute. As for France, Griezmann was surprisingly subdued after his missed header in the 10th minute but came back bursting into the scene in the 59th. However, his low shot was easily stopped by Patricio. Then Griezmann missed a sitter in 66th minute and the game continued to be in a state of a meandering mess. With 15 minutes left, France had two chances but first Giroud and then Sissoko missed them. Eder came for Portugal in place of Renato Sanchez and got into the act straightaway. But except for the 92nd minute shot by Frenchman Gignac that struck the post, nothing spectacular happened in the regulation time.
The first half of extra-time was listless. Both sides continued playing the way they had done in the first 90 minutes. In the second half, an injured and wobbling Ronaldo coaxed his mates from the sidelines. The tempo of the match became furious with a series of fouls on both sides. Everything suddenly changed in the 109th minute. Eder received the ball near the goal and fought hard with Koscielny before shooting from 25 yards. It was a fierce smash that came low and the diving Lloris couldn’t reach it. Portugal had done it. More than 10 minutes remained from full-time but the ecstatic red crowd had broken into uncontrolled celebrations. Ronaldo was crying like a baby while limping along the sideline. Soon it was all over. They hugged and hugged as the French were crestfallen. 12 years after the heartbreaking loss to Greece, Portugal have emerged as the new European Champions.
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