Portugal 1-0 France: five talking points from the Euro 2016 final

Despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s tears this competition will be remembered for Portuguese resilience and the triumph of the massive French security operation

1) Portugal’s resilience has been rewarded

For all that this final provided only the occasional spasm of quality, the victory was one for Portugal, with its substantial immigrant community here in France, long to savour. This nation has regularly threatened such success but never previously delivered it. Yet, having squeezed unconvincingly out of their group and won only one match in 90 minutes all tournament, Fernando Santos’s team are champions. Their match winner, Éder, played 267 minutes of Premier League football for Swansea City last season as an understudy to Bafétimbi Gomis. The manager, who has not lost in any of his 14 competitive games in charge, has worked wonders integrating players from last summer’s impressive under‑21s into his senior squad. The likes of Renato Sanches – the youngest player ever to feature in this final – João Mário, Raphaël Guerreiro and William Carvalho will play huge roles in this team’s future. Yet Santos has also drawn form from elder statesmen such as Nani and Ricardo Quaresma, while harnessing the supreme quality of Cristiano Ronaldo. Santos was given the celebratory bumps by the dugouts at the end. Coming crashing back down to earth can never have been more pleasurable.


2) An occasion remembered for Ronaldo’s tears

This was not how it was supposed to be but, even so, Cristiano Ronaldo remained the centre of attention. Portugal’s captain had arrived at the Stade de France wearing his gold-trim, noise-cancelling headphones and aviator sunglasses and sporting the air of a man who knew his record 21st game at the European Championship would provide a stage on which to make history. Thereafter the script veered off piste. Dimitri Payet’s early robust challenge saw to that, the Portuguese creasing to the turf clutching his left knee and, even after two bouts of treatment, he could not continue. The first flood of tears came once he had ripped off his strapping while sitting on a stretcher. He had touched the ball eight times. Yet his job was not done. Ronaldo first played the cheerleader, urging on his team-mates during their huddles in extra-time. Then, most dramatically of all, he turned manager, patrolling the technical area bellowing instruction. The tears which greeted Éder’s winner were those of joy. Whether denied his chance out on the pitch or not, this was evidence of how much he cared.

3) France have missed their opportunity

Didier Deschamps trudged through the post-match ceremony clutching a hefty Uefa badge as a meagre consolation prize. The days ahead will bring soul‑searching. This had been a strangely conservative and passive display from France’s manager of four years. Where he had previously toyed with his tactics and selection during the match, never afraid to admit his original choice had been wrong, this seemed more a collection of poor choices. Why was Antony Martial, a player who has tormented these opponents before, not given more than a cameo deep into stoppage time? Why was Moussa Sissoko sacrificed instead of one of the more ineffective Paul Pogba or Blaise Matuidi? Where was the innovation, the fluidity of tactics, that was supposed to mark the manager out, and would have helped his team better exploit Ronaldo’s departure? After the opening half-hour this was horribly flat and made all the footage circulating on social media of the open‑top bus, to be used in the celebrations, en route to Paris on Sunday afternoon all the more excruciating.

4) Will the real Moussa Sissoko please stand up?

Those television viewers back on Tyneside must have performed a double take midway through the first half. There was one of their own in possession just inside his own half, spying a gap and surging up-field with such pace and aggression that the Portuguese were left gasping in his vapour trail until his shot flew narrowly over the bar. He was the one real positive in the French ranks over the course of the evening, begging the question: if Moussa Sissoko is capable of brilliance like this, why on earth did he spend so much of last season shuffling around Premier League grounds ineffectively as Newcastle United slipped miserably into the Championship? This was a throwback to the midfielder of three or four years ago, turning away from markers to fizz shots at goal or bursting to the by-line to cross for his team-mates. It was certainly the type of player Steve McClaren and Rafael Benítez had required last term. As Sissoko marauded forward, forcing Rui Patrício into a fine save in the 84th minute, it was hard to be sure which French player should be provoking talk of a nine-figure transfer fee: him or Pogba.

Moussa Sissoko

5) Relief in the success of the security operation

Before this tournament the principal fear gripping France, the travelling supporters and, indeed, some of the players was of a terrorist attack. Paris and Saint-Denis had suffered last November when 130 people were killed in a wave of atrocities across Île-de-France. The one innocent bystander who died at the Stade de France that night was Manuel Colaço Dias, a 63-year-old retired chauffeur originally from Mértola, south-east Portugal. His wife and son were invited to the final as guests of the French government but they cannot bring themselves as yet to return to this venue. There are too many painful stories like that but there is also relief to be had that the finals, either inside the stadia or at the fanzones in the host cities, were not blighted by a repeat. The police did use tear gas at the Eiffel Tower zone on Sunday attempting to disperse fans trying to enter an area crammed with 90,000 people two hours before kick-off, yet the major flashpoints in France were from hooliganism, not terrorism. For all the inconvenience caused by the odd false alarm, the anti-terror security appears to have worked.


Dominic Fifield at the Stade de France

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