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EURO 2016 Final (Portugal 1 - 0 France): Cristiano Ronaldo & Pepe Make History

Cristiano Ronaldo goes off injured, but a miracle goal from Eder seals a legendary victory for Portugal.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

In an unbelievable turn of events, Portugal scraped past France in extra time through a scarcely conceivable wonder goal from Eder. Things certainly did not seem like they were going to turn out this way as Portugal looked supremely uncomfortable in the opening moments of the match. France employed an extremely effective counterpress that stymied the Selecção's ability to transition, and took advantage of Portugal's nervous players.

In the opening seconds of the match Fonte gave the ball away terribly, which was followed up by extremely sloppy play from Renato Sanches and the rest of the Portugal midfield. Smelling blood, France funneled their possession into quick dribbling movements directed at Portugal's back-line, before trying to find Giroud at the right far post. Other than a Nani shot that flew way over the bar, France was the dominant force in the first 15 minutes of the match. A slip by Pepe in the 9th minute allowed Payet to cross to Griezmann, who drew a world class save from Rui Patricio.

But undoubtedly the biggest moment of the opening exchange was Ronaldo's injury in the 8th minute. Dimitri Payet slammed into Ronaldo hard, causing the Portuguese forward's knee to twist viciously. Ronaldo immediately vacated the pitch to get treated before trying to come back on. After the same sequence repeated itself, Cristiano had no choice but to accept that he had to watch this game from the sidelines.

The moment was truly devastating for fans across the world, but Ronaldo fought his hardest to stay on that pitch. Watching him walk back on twice to fight for his country warmed the heart, and showed the true passion he has for the game.

Oddly enough Ronaldo being stretchered off seemed to knock the breath out of the stadium and France's collective energy. France's counterpress disappeared, and they instead relied on individual drives from Sissoko to break Portugal's back four. Sissoko managed to find plenty of success in his individualistic push for goal, completing 6 dribbles, but Pepe marshaled his defensive line too well for Portugal to be broken.

France's high line suffocated Portugal and cut out their passing lanes in their own half

France's high line suffocated Portugal's passing lanes through the middle

Evidence of France's counterpress: Several of Portugal's players in midfield and attack were disposessed

Dispossession statistics: evidence of France's pressure on Portugal's midfield

France's lull continued into the second half until Kingsley Coman was substituted on for Payet. This gave France a much needed injection of pace and quality, evidenced by his 4 key passes and 3 dribbles he managed by the end of the game.

The first of those key passes was a gem of a cross towards Griezmann, who amazingly managed to head the clear-cut chance over the bar. Minutes later, a Coman run forced a corner, which zipped past several French players who could've converted. In the 75th minute, Coman once again acted as provider as he slipped in Giroud who's shot was saved by the incredible Patricio. With Portugal getting killed on the flanks, Santos made the risky change of bringing on Eder for Renato Sanches in order to allow Nani and Quaresma to spread wide and monitor the flanks. Still the French tide could not be stemmed, as Sissoko forced Patricio into another good save before Gignac dropped Pepe to the floor and hit the post. Portugal probably should have lost the final in that second half, but their inspired keeper and brave back-line kept them alive till extra time.

This prompted Ronaldo to come back onto the pitch to motivate his teammates and take over Fernando Santos' role on the touchline in extra time. Eder would later admit that Ronaldo told him that he was going to score, which sheds light on the kind of confidence a leader should be transmitting to his teammates.

From then on the game was incredibly even, with France failing to provide quality in the final third and Portugal just waiting for their moment. That moment finally came in the 109th minute, when Eder, a man who had previously failed to score in a single competitive international fixture, scored a miracle goal from 30 yards. That goal crushed the wind out of France, sending Portugal into delirium. Solitary Portugal fans could be seen celebrating amidst a sea of blue, while Cristiano Ronaldo went insane.

(But he only celebrates his own goals right?)

From that point onwards France streamed forward but failed to create anything of note, leaving Portugal to lift their first ever international trophy under the lights in Paris, France. History will remind us of the cruelty of football that is a team losing at home, but poetic justice was exacted tonight as Portugal banished the demons of Greece in 2004. For once, Cristiano Ronaldo gets to end an international tournament with tears of joy.

And what of Cristiano Ronaldo? Decades from now people might be quick to point out that Ronaldo's contribution to the final was insignificant, having gone out injured. But that ignores the fantastic campaign he's had, not just as footballer, but as a leader. After a shaky opening two games in the EUROs (in which he missed a penalty), Ronaldo came back with fantastic mental strength to carry Portugal through a tumultuous match vs. Hungary, creating all the three goals Portugal scored. Then, when shackled offensively by Fernando Santos' tactics vs. Croatia, Ronaldo still made an impact, winning the ball in his own half to set off the counter that would lead to Ricardo Quaresma's only goal of the tournament. Against Poland, he went first in the shoot-out and scored, but more importantly, Ronaldo's now famous speech to Moutinho demonstrated his capabilities as a captain and as a true leader. Others would have wilted in the moment, but instead, CR7 took the responsibility of the team's morale and confidence into his own hands. But Portugal needed him back on the score sheet again vs. Wales, and he duly obliged, out-jumping his marker to score a stunning header, before creating the danger that led to Nani and Portugal's second goal.

Yes, he barely played in the final, but Portugal wouldn't have gotten there without him, and he stilled showed the character of a true leader when his legs had given out. Ronaldo did what neither Luis Figo, Rui Costa, or Eusebio were able to do; win a major title for Portugal. There is no doubting it now, Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal's greatest player of all time.

But what of Pepe? In the midst of the discussion surrounding Ronaldo, it is important not to forget one of the outstanding center backs of EURO 2016. Utterly key to Fernando Santos' ultra-defensive style, Pepe was an utter rock in the final (bar one slip and another slide) and in the knockout stages as a whole, leading Portugal to clean sheets vs. Austria and Croatia. It didn't look like he would have such a tournament initially, as he was particularly culpable for Iceland's winner and looked shaky vs. Hungary. But just like Cristiano, he resurrected himself and played his socks off when it mattered most.

Pepe made an insane 12 clearances, in addition to his 3 tackles, 4 blocks, and 2 interceptions

Pepe made an insane 12 clearances in addition to his 3 tackles, 4 blocks, and 2 interceptions

A special mention must also go out to Rui Patricio, who was the real man of the match in the final. For large parts of this match Portugal looked lost without Ronaldo up front, allowing France to storm forward and pummel 18 shots on goal. Despite Pepe and all his heroics, if it wasn't for Patricio's sorcery in between the sticks, France would've run out as comfortable winners. Aside from his one flap at a cross, Patricio's 7 saves has probably locked this match down as the greatest he's ever played.

Finally, it has to be said that all the salt Portugal have been receiving is totally undeserved. Portugal winning the EUROs doesn't mean that they're the best team in Europe, but it does mean that they deserved to win it, end of story. It isn't anti-football to defend well and throw aesthetics out the window like "pundits" are suggesting. That's just a different and under-appreciated way of playing the game. What really is anti-football is the bad behavior we've seen from fans this tournament and the engagement in backward discussions about what is "the right way to play." Let's get off Portugal's back and allow them to enjoy a kind of happiness they've never felt before.

This is their moment, let them enjoy it.

(All statistics & charts taken from and FourFourTwo statszone)

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