By: Phil Rodriguez
It all came down to this. The 51st match of the UEFA Euro 2016 cup certainly wasn’t the most exciting game of the tournament, but it had a few moments. In the end, host nation and match favorite France fell 1-0 to a Ronaldo-less Portugal.
Things looked auspicious for Ronaldo from early on. In the 8th minute, after a fair tackle from France’s Dmitri Payet, the Portuguese maestro went down wincing in pain and clutching his knee. Trainers were called on to the pitch, and after evaluating him he made it off the field under his own power and worked out his leg.
A major talking point for this game would be the lack of goals from French attacking stud Antoine Griezmann. This was quite surprising, considering he finished as the top scorer in the tournament, and was coming off of a masterful two goal performance against defensive titans Germany. Early in the 7th minute, Payet got the ball into the box and, after it bounced around numerous times, landed at the feet of Griezmann on the left side of the box. His shot flew wide left however, missing the curve and purpose his shots had been marked with during the match against Germany. Moments later, in the 10th minute, Payet played a beautiful ball over the middle of the field to find Griezmann in the box, who made excellent contact with his head. The ball again sailed over the goal, as suspicions about whether Griezmann was mentally prepared for this game began to arise.
When the 17th minute came around, it seemed that whatever injury Ronaldo had sustained was beginning to be be too much for him. He could be seen still attempting to walk it off, his head hung low as Portugal prepared to get back on defense. Suddenly, he let himself fall to the ground, grimacing and crying as he held onto his left knee again. Tears streamed from his eyes and a moth flew into his face, adding insult to injury.
For some reason, the grounds were absolutely swimming with moths. Photos from the game showed them coating the scoreboards and lights, swooping around and bothering the players on either bench. The moth that harassed Ronaldo during his moment of injury was dubbed “Cristiano’s Moth” and, as of press time, has a twitter account with over 4,500 followers.
After getting his knee heavily wrapped up by the trainers, Ronaldo returned to the field at the 21st minute. France had gained some momentum against the 10-man Portugal side while he was away, and continued to ride that once he came back on. Sissoko had a good chance in the 22nd minute after a solid run, but his shot was lightly deflected from Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Nothing came from the corner, and Portugal were able to get on the ball and move it along. Just at the start of the 24th minute, Ronaldo, after wincing in pain while playing a pass, finally seemed to have had enough. Limping as he signaled to the bench, he grabbed his captain’s armband and again laid on the ground. A stretcher was brought over and, before being carted off the field, he handed the band off to winger Nani. Although incredibly disappointing to see arguably the world’s best player go out on a stage as big as this, it was nonetheless incredibly heartwarming to hear the vast majority of the stadium cheer him on as he left.
The game went back and forth with little real chances for either team. Sissoko had a decent shot or two, but Patricio was in too good of form to allow the shots France were getting on him. As half time rolled around, all of the talk was on the Ronaldo injury.
The second half was all about Portugal’s defense, as Pepe and company snuffed out several attacks, with Rui Patricio leaping around like a madman, saving more lasers from Sissoko and Payet. Griezmann continued to be nearly invisible, a disappointing last match for a player who’s been arguably the best in the tournament.
Portugal began to look more threatening during the second half, preying on a France team that slowly began to show their cracks and fatigue. Centerback Samuel Umtiti, recently signed to FC Barcelona, made some fantastic plays at the back, especially in the 56th minute. Portuguese playmaker Joao Mario launched a low and powerful ball for Nani in the box, only for it to be cleared away by a powerful leaping header from Umtiti. He clutched his nose in his hands directly afterwards, checking for injury after taking the strongly hit cross directly to the face.
Portugal Coach Fernando Santos was shown frequently during the early second half, nervously pacing the sideline while intermittently yelling instructions to his squad. He had reason to look anxious, as his squad simply wasn’t finishing their chances. Griezmann showed a flash in the 58th minute, taking a well-played pass from young phenom Kingsley Coman, but again couldn’t quite put the right amount of power or twist on his shot. Rui Patricio fell on the ball and made another easy save.
The 66th minute brought more of the same for Griezmann, who again headed the ball over the goal after a cross from Paul Pogba. Each chance had their chances as the half dragged on, but with the form of the keepers and the defenses playing lights out, it seemed that extra time was almost certain. In the 78th minute, forward Eder was subbed on, allowing Nani to move to the wing rather than playing up top as he had been. This enabled him to hit in an awkward cross in the 80th minute, which was punched by Hugo Lloris. The ensuing rebound was hit with an acrobatic bicycle kick from Ricardo Quaresma, which was snatched by Hugo Lloris before it snuck past him into goal.
Portugal finally broke through in extra time, scoring the first and only goal. They went extremely close in the 108th minute, with left back Raphael Guerreiro sending a curving beauty to the top left corner of the goal, only for Lloris to make yet another brilliant save. The breakthrough came in the next minute, when substitute Eder dribbled the ball to just outside of the box, hammering it hard with the inner side of his right foot. The ball screamed into the bottom left corner and Lloris never had a chance. That was enough for Portugal, and they hung on.
The celebration was filled with all smiles, and a hobbling, relieved and reveling Cristiano Ronaldo. From the look on his face, you couldn’t even tell he’d missed the game. This is France’s first loss in a Euro final, after winning their previous two appearances in 1984 and 2000. Portugal had previously made an appearance in the 2004 as the host nation versus Greece, a match they lost in an upset 1-0. This marks their first ever major tournament win, having never previously won a World Cup or European championship.