In the six games leading up to the final of Euro 2016 the Portuguese had barely used Eder. The big striker had spent thirteen minutes on the pitch at the tournament, with two substitute appearances the sum total of his contribution to Portugal’s run to the final. In the four matches before the final he had been an unused substitute, watching on as his teammates did the work. But in the final he got his chance, and he cemented a very special place in history by scoring the goal which delivered Portugal their first ever victory at a major tournament.
The Lille frontman came on with around ten minutes remaining in normal time, with the score tied at 0-0. He made an impact almost immediately, using his height and strength to great advantage as he won plenty of free kicks in dangerous positions. He was the player Portugal needed in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, the side’s captain, talisman and best player. Ronaldo was the hard luck story of the final, injured early on following a tackle by Dimitri Payet and unable to continue. He left on a stretcher after a valiant attempt to play out the match, crying in despair as he was carried down the race. The injury had left Portugal without a strong aerial option, a void which Eder could easily fill.
The French were strong favourites to lift the trophy in front of their home fans, and in the early stages they began to assert their authority. Antoine Griezmann, already a shoo-in for the golden boot with six goals, looked dangerous early and continually found himself in good positions. He could have had a seventh when he was in a perfect position to receive Payet’s nonchalant ball over the top, but Portugal survived. The header was perfectly placed, and had Rui Patricio failed to tip it over the bar it would have found its way into the top corner.
As the game wore on, the French became less threatening. They were still very confident, but they were content to pass the ball around the back and never really looked like penetrating the organised Portuguese front. France were not able to get their stars involved in the game, and while Moussa Sissoko looked very dangerous his contemporaries did not. They continued to pass the ball around the back, and in doing so they allowed Portugal to gain a solid foothold in the match.
The first half ended without much goalmouth activity, and the second half did not bring about a noticeable change in energy. Neither side was really injecting much pace into the game, and neither side was willing to take a chance. The French were on top of possession, but they were not using it effectively and were unable to pressure the Portuguese defence. Griezmann should have scored after he received a perfect cross from Kingsley Coman, but the header was just over the bar. The game remained scoreless.
As the second half drew to a close the game was still level, and neither side really looked like clinching it. Portugal had a great opportunity after Nani’s cross was palmed away by Hugo Lloris in the direction of Ricardo Quaresma, but the bicycle kick, while impressive, was ineffective. France had some great chances as the half drew to a close, and Andre-Pierre Gignac should have scored in injury time after he beat Pepe in the box to find the ball in an excellent position. His shot ran through Patricio’s legs as it made its way towards the goal, but it rebounded off the post and bounced past Griezmann, who was unable to retrieve it in time. The Portuguese cleared, and extra time was inevitable.
Eder started to find his feet in the first period of extra time, getting into good positions and using his physical superiority over the French defence to win plenty of the ball and plenty of fouls. He had a great chance as the half came to a close, with a close range header from Quaresma’s corner forcing Lloris to make an excellent save. The Portuguese had finished the first half of extra time on top, and they were able to turn that into something tangible just after the break. Raphael Guerreiro came close early on when he hit the underside of the bar with his free kick, and the goal followed moments later.
Eder took three fairly clumsy touches to control the ball when he received it outside the box. He had played well after replacing 18-year-old wunderkind Renato Sanches, but nothing he had done in half an hour on the pitch suggested what was about to happen next. He shot from range, placing the ball into the bottom corner with plenty of power. It was too much for Lloris, who was unable to reach it as it buried itself in the back of the net.
Eder’s goal left France in a state of panic, and they tried in vain to play at a faster pace. They were too young and inexperienced, and they did not have the presence of mind that they needed to overcome the deficit. The Portuguese were content to waste time whenever they were given the chance, and they looked in complete control as they held the hosts at bay. For the first time this tournament France did not have an answer, and Portugal were the ones left celebrating after clinging on to hoist the trophy at the Stade de France.
Saint-Denis – Stade de France
Portugal 1 (Eder 109)
France 0 (a.e.t)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Eng)
Portugal (4-1-3-2): Rui Patricio – Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; William Carvalho; Renato Sanches (Eder 79), Adrien Silva (Joao Moutinho 66), Joao Mario; Nani, Ronaldo (Quaresma 25).
France (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Sagna, Koscielny, Umtiti, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Sissoko (Martial 110), Griezmann, Payet (Coman 58); Giroud (Gignac 78).