Portugal ride Ronaldo’s wave to edge out determined Atlas Lions

Fayçal Fajr lifted the free-kick long into the box. In the dying embers of Morocco’s clash with Portugal, the Atlas Lions were desperately trying to recoup a one-goal deficit that had existed from the fourth minute of the match. At stake were Morocco’s chances of progressing from a tough group, with a loss certainly consigning Hervé Renard’s team to elimination – with one game still to play. Fajr’s free-kick was launched at the mass of bodies now crowding the Portuguese penalty area, and it fell at the feet of Moroccan captain Medhi Benatia, who had space and drew back his left foot to shoot from inside the area. He had missed in an almost identical situation earlier in the half, but surely this time, with the game on the line and everything set up perfectly, he could test Rui Patricio. Once again, the ball cleaved the air over the bar, sailing away from the goals and, ultimately, proving to be Morocco’s last chance to save their tournament. They fought valiantly, but they ultimately fell to a goal from the man who has destroyed so many of Portugal’s opponents: Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Cristiano Ronaldo lunges forward to score the only goal of the game in the fourth minute. After going ahead early on, the Portuguese held onto their lead for the rest of the match.

Whatever plan Hervé Renard had made to deal with Ronaldo after his stunning hat-trick in Portugal’s opening clash with Spain, it didn’t work. Less than five minutes had elapsed when Bernardo Silva and João Moutinho combined to deliver the ball into the box from a Portuguese corner, and Ronaldo, apparently unmarked and in plenty of space, headed home from close range. Manuel da Costa, assigned to stick with the Portuguese captain, was neatly sidestepped, and Munir El Kajoui had absolutely no chance as Ronaldo dived forward and drilled his header into the back of the net. When, a few minutes later, Ronaldo found space to shoot in the box and only narrowly missed, and Morocco seemed incapable of keeping him down.

Then things began to turn. Morocco started to put some sustained pressure on the Portuguese, working to win the ball high up the pitch and beginning to take some control. On the left wing, Hakim Ziyech was the architect, creating their best chance when he picked out Medhi Benatia from a corner and twice working his way into space to fire shots at Rui Patricio. In the meantime, he drifted all over the field, stringing together excellent passes and creating plenty of problems. On the right, Nordin Amrabat, who started the game wearing a skull cap but ditched it after 15 minutes, was the main weapon. He had pace, skill and threatened every time he received the ball, especially in space. Portuguese left-back Raphaël Guerreiro was a man under siege, often left embarrassed by his quicker, more skilled and cannier opponent, and Amrabat looked like breaking the game wide open on a number of occasions. Unfortunately for Morocco, he didn’t. Portugal still carried some threat, and El Kajoui was forced into a tough reflex save to deny Gonçalo Guedes just before the break.

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Nordin Amrabat (left) attempts to take on Portuguese left-back Raphaël Guerreiro. Amrabat was too good for Guerreiro all day, and he created plenty of trouble for Portugal.

Morocco started the second half with all of the zest they showed in the first, but they still struggled to break through Portugal’s defence. Patricio was forced to make a brilliant save to deny Younès Belhanda, whose headed effort from another dangerous Ziyech free-kick was destined for the bottom corner before the experienced goalkeeper deflected it away for the relative harmlessness of a corner. Shortly afterwards, Benatia blasted a shot over the bar, and it seemed like Morocco were beginning to lay a prolonged siege to the Portuguese goal. They couldn’t. The chances continued to come, but Portugal were able to assert just enough control to keep the pressure from mounting. Ziyech had a great chance, but his shot was deflected over the bar. The corner came to nothing. Pepe deflected a Moroccan corner into his arm. Morocco’s protestations for a penalty came to nothing. Morocco fought until the final whistle, and dominated a Portuguese team who didn’t disprove the theory that they’re too reliant on Ronaldo. It all came to nothing.

Moscow – Luzhniki Stadium
Portugal 1 (Ronaldo 4)
Morocco 0
Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)
Portugal (4-4-2): Rui Patricio – Cédric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; Bernardo Silva (Gelson Martins 59), João Moutinho (Adrien Silva 89), William Carvalho, João Mário (Fernandes 70); Guedes, Ronaldo.
Morocco (4-2-3-1): El Kajoui – Dirar, Benatia, da Costa, Hakimi; El Ahmadi (Fajr 86), Boussoufa; N Amrabat, Belhanda (Carcela 75), Ziyech; Boutaïb (El Kaabi 69).

Top 5
1. Nordin Amrabat (Morocco)
Amrabat was in blistering form down the right, terrorising Guerreiro all match and giving the Portuguese defence plenty of problems. His delivery into the box was dangerous, and if Morocco had a clinical finisher in the middle he could have finished the game with multiple assists.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo only needed one moment to win Portugal the match. His evasion of da Costa at an early corner and subsequent finish proved to be the only goal of the match, and it gave him a remarkable record of four goals in two games at this tournament. Do Portugal rely on him too much? We shall see.
3. Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Ziyech was everywhere as Morocco tried desperately to equalise, and he looked like one of the only Moroccan players capable of creating chances against a solid Portuguese back four. His set piece delivery was brilliant, and caused plenty of nervous moments for Portugal.
4. Rui Patricio (Portugal)
Considering Morocco’s control of possession and territory, Patricio had less work to do than he may have otherwise expected. He was, however, called upon to make some tough stops, with his effort to deny a well-taken Belhanda header a particularly brilliant – and crucial – intervention.
5. Mbark Boussoufa (Morocco)
Boussoufa worked hard on and off the ball and allowed Morocco to control the game with his work in the middle. He created some chances with dangerous deliveries into the Portuguese penalty area, and put good pressure on Portugal when they had the ball.


Eder strike sinks France as Portugal claim title

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).