There were 90,000 at the Stade de France in Saint Denis in France for the Euro 2016 finals last Sunday culminating the traditional football season, between France and Portugal. Probably a 100 million worldwide watching this extravaganza on TV between the home team and an upshot.
Les Blues had been there before at the same Stade in the 1998 World Cup finals, memorably with Zidane, Henry, Deschamps, Barthez to name a few and won it all, defeating an all-star Brazilian team 3-0. And the overwhelming French capacity crowd on Sunday at the Stade waited for a similar result after their spectacular performance on Wednesday against world champions Germany.
Alas! It wasn’t to be.
Portugal the underdogs, stole the huge cup with a 109 minute goal off substitute Eder, silencing the tricolour-waving home crowd with a vicious, and accurate right footer.
It was a place that I would have loved to be that evening. Though I did watch on TV (from New York) – and am glad that I did. If it hadn’t been for the live coverage, I would have missed the moment the ultra zoom lens of the TV camera man caught the fairy moth angel drying off the dampness on Ronaldo’s weeping eyes in the 20th minute, when he sat on the pitch after an 8th minute clash with the French forward Dimitri Payet, unable to perform his magic anymore for his country.
The clash between Ronaldo and Payet was not a foul – it was just unfortunate that Payet’s knee cap hit Ronaldo’s knee at the side and a devastated Ronaldo tried in vain to raise himself after this clash. But the “boy” as Sir Alex Ferguson referred to him, almost perfect physically with his perfect body, could only weep.
Ronaldo had been there before when in 2004, he was 19 in his hometown Lisbon, and Greece won the Cup against Portugal in a heart wrenching final for the home crowd.
History repeats itself somewhat again – as opposed to 1998 World Cup final, at the same stadium with the home team, when the Brazilian coach Mario Zagallo decided to include the not-so-fit, “other” great Ronaldo in the team, this time, the “Portuguese” Ronaldo was taken off by the brilliant Portuguese coach Santos.
Could it be that Portugal take the large eared cup from France in their own backyard in a “repeat”?
The game commenced in a perfectly orchestrated symphony for the first eight minutes. The French mid fielders and forwards combined as if each pass was coordinated before hand. Griezmann, Payet, and Giroud forming the trident spearhead and supported by Sissoko, Umtiti, Progba with Didier Deschamps on the sidelines conducting baton less.
The English bookies had all favoured France and it seemed destiny before the Les Blues found the back of the opponents net. Then came the turning point – Ronaldo’s injury and his exit in the 20+ minute. More than anything else, it changed the entire offensive nature for the French and strengthened the Portuguese defense. The Portuguese played a 4-1-3-2 formation, with Ronaldo teaming up with Nani as the attacking players. Quersma replaced Ronaldo after his injury but Santos the Portuguese coach made significant organization changes, placing an emphasis on a more coordinated defense to block the French attack. It worked.
The French players with the crowd waving the tricolour and singing the La Marseillaise cheered them on. Sissoko was magnificent with his 25 – 30 yard bullet strikes. Griezmann and Payet tried in vain to find the magic, but Pepe was there – at his best, even after an injury which had kept him out of the semi-finals against Wales. Unfortunately for France, Rui Patricio and the goal posts denied them the ripple of the net!
Deschamps used his substitutes and brought in Coman and Gignac. Thoroughly professional players, however, the ever alert Pepe, and goalkeeper Patricio kept their nerves and withstood the French attacks. France held majority of the possession and Portugal responded in counter attacks. But with Nani as the sole forward, they were ineffective.
These championship games like the Euro, UEFA, Copa America are based on an unforgiving group and knockout standard, where past performance has little significance. Although Portugal advanced to the Euro 2016 final, it had tied all its preliminary rounds, finishing in third place after Hungary and Iceland, but in this first Euro of 24 teams it qualified for the round of 16. In the knock-out stage, after a late goal against Iceland it skedaddled away from the juggernauts and knocked off Wales to face mighty France in the final. The quarter and semi finals between Germany-Italy and France-Germany were breathtaking, each one a standard bearer. Italy may be without the great Buffon from the international scene after this. Is it the rules that make the champs? Is this why these magnificent players are giving up their international careers?
[espl_quote]Most of the European professional leagues are based on a 38+ game schedule over several months , no overtime, no penalty deciders, and brilliant football between the most gifted players. If you have a bad day, there is a chance to catch up. Real Madrid almost did in 2015/ 2016 La Liga when they came from behind double digits to a point behind champions Barca.[/espl_quote]
On Sunday, on the 109th minute of the game, the substitute player from Lille, Eder stifled France with a stunning low shot faster than goalie Lloris could react, to ripple the net and a hush descended on the Stade de France to silence except for the handful of red and green Portuguese. After 120 minutes of playtime, the jubilant Nani ran to an impaired Ronaldo, took off the captain’s armband which Ronaldo had tied on him in the 20th minute and placed it on him, so he could lift the big-eared trophy. Pepe dedicated the Cup to Ronaldo. What team spirit! Take a bow, Ronaldo and company.