The Euro 2016 final was not much of a treat for neutral fans, in terms of quality of play. In fact, toward the end of the second overtime period, the commentators on ESPN even began to suggest that the final matched the tournament, in that the Euro 2016 itself has been viewed by many as somewhat lacking in excitement. But while the quality of the football in the final was underwhelming (at least from a viewing perspective), there was no shortage of drama or surprise.
These three things, in particular, should have shocked most observers.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo’s Injury
Undoubtedly the most dramatic event of the final was Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury less than half way through the first period. The narrative heading into the final was that France was the best team but those fireworks from Ronaldo could conceivably elevate Portugal to glory. No one seemed to consider the possibility that Ronaldo, like anyone else, could be hampered by injury. Yet when he was awkwardly sandwiched during a tackle, he appeared to twist his left knee. Although he attempted to stay on, it quickly became apparent he couldn’t play through the injury.
Before the half even ended, there were images released of Ronaldo being carried off on a stretcher and holding back tears. It looked like a disaster for Portugal, and perhaps the end of Ronaldo’s last chance to win the European Championship for his country.
2) The Unlikely Heroes
One never knows who will emerge as the hero of a major football final, but there were some clear candidates before the match. As mentioned, Cristiano Ronaldo looked (as always) to be Portugal’s best shot at breaking through with a goal. And on the French side the expectation was that Dimitri Payet would continue his excellent play and that Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, or both would handle the scoring. Griezmann and Giroud had both been very reliable attackers heading into the final, and the odds that one would score, even against Portugal’s stubborn defence, seemed strong.
As it happened, however, Ronaldo went down with injury; Griezmann and Giroud were kept at bay; and while Payet was fine, he didn’t stand out as he had in the previous matches. For France, Moussa Sissoko was the best man on the field (though Anthony Martial, who subbed in for him, nearly equalised the match late in extra time). But the hero of the match was Portugal’s Eder. Roughly midway through extra time, Eder ripped a powerful shot from distance to score the match’s only goal and ultimately win Euro 2016 for Portugal.
3) Portugal’s Triumph
Before the final, it was clear that fans, analysts, and tipsters alike backed France to triumph, and the odds were quite strong in favour of the host nation. With no disrespect to Portugal, it looked like a relatively clear pick. France has been in strong form throughout and topped a formidable German side to advance, whereas Portugal finished third in its group to limp into the knock-out round and got a match against upstart Wales in the semi-finals.
As is always the case, however, fans and tipsters can be mistaken, and this time around the seemingly obvious choice proved to be the wrong one. France simply couldn’t overcome Portugal’s frustrating, defensive-focussed style, and the Portuguese got the single goal they needed to break through.
With a few weeks having passed now, we can look back and say that this might not have been the most thrilling tournament, and there are those who criticized Portugal’s form, claiming that the wrong team won. But if nothing else, at least Euro 2016 wrapped up with a significant surprise.