Portugal defy the critics with Euro title - even without Ronaldo

 Cristiano Ronaldo's tears of despair turned into those of joy when he lifted the Euro 2016 trophy into the French night for Portugal's first major title.

Portugal's chances appeared heavily dented when the 31-year-old captain was stretchered off with a knee injury and in tears midway through the first half.

He returned from the dressing room for extra time where substitute Eder scored the 1-0 against France in the 109th minute with a low shot - allowing Ronaldo to limp up the stairs to the VIP box and get his hands on the trophy first in his capacity as captain.

"I am very happy. I have been looking for this for a long time. I asked God for another chance," Ronaldo said.

"Today I was unfortunate to be injured, but I always believed the players, along with the coach's strategy, would be capable to win. This is a very happy moment. Thankfully, everything went our way.

"For me this is an amazing unique moment and unforgettable."

Man-of-the-match and defender Pepe said: "It was tough. We lost our most important player. The man who can score a goal at any time. But God helped us, we were warriors on the pitch. We swore to ourselves to win for him, and we won for him."

Victory was sweet after Portugal had as hosts lost the 2004 final against Greece, with Ronaldo playing as a promising 19-year-old then.

"This is a victory for Portugal," coach Fernando Santos said. "Tonight was our night."

The Portugal camp was ecstatic and celebrated with their fans in the Stade de France - but it was a triumph for a team which apart from an odd flash of brilliance up front will be remembered for defending first.

It was duly be noted that Portugal won only one of their seven games in France in 90 minutes, and while congratulating Portugal for their mental strength France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris insisted "they did not play good football."

Portugal escaped into the knock-out round with three draws against Iceland, Austria and Hungary, then needed extra time to beat Croatia, a penalty shoot-out against Poland before beating Wales 2-0 in the semis, and another extra-time in the final.

But they couldn't care less Sunday after achieving with past Portuguese generations around the late Eusebio and Luis Figo had not been able to achieve.

"Regardless of what the naysayers and critics said we had our goals set out for us. We wanted to win this match. And we wrote a brilliant page in the book of Portuguese history," Pepe said.

Coach Fernando Santos had said before the match that we are not the best team in the world but we are not pushovers either."

He said afterwards: "We scored and France didn't. France had more possession but we knew that because they were playing at home. We were very good on defence and we managed to cancel out their strengths. They tried everything but we were very strong."

Portugal were lucky at times and had to thank goalkeeper Rui Patricio for some spectacular saves in the final.

They rode their luck when French substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac was denied by the left post in stoppage time before the extra period but there Portugal had the better chances, with Raphael Guerreiro hitting the crossbar shortly before Eder's winner.

"It was a very special goal, the winning goal. But it was the result of teamwork, like all of our efforts," Eder said.

The forward, who plays in France at Lille, was only sparsely used by Santos at the tournament but he was needed Sunday to pose a bigger threat, Santos said in explanation of bringing him on early in the second half.

"When he came on he said he would score. And the ugly duckling scored and became a beautiful swan," Santos said.

Last update: Mon, 11/07/2016 - 13:44
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