This one's for you, Cristiano! Eder and Portugal's heroes make history

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal France UEFA Euro 10072016
The Portugal captain could only stand and watch as his team-mates edged a tense final against France after spending so many years being the man they relied on


Once upon a time Cristiano Ronaldo qualified Portugal for a World Cup with four goals in two matches and earned himself the Ballon d'Or in the process. Back then they could have been accused of being a one-man team. Fernando Santos relied on Ronaldo for Euro 2016 success but not to the extent that he couldn't orchestrate a win without him. 

For a country that has traditionally failed to produce a classic No. 9, Portugal certainly picked the right moment to unleash Eder. Until the point in the final in which he was introduced at the expense of Renato Sanches, Santos had made do with Nani and Ronaldo as his central striking options.

The loss of Ronaldo on 25 minutes meant that one of those choices was taken from him and Nani had endured a fruitless night through the middle against Samuel Umtiti and Laurent Koscielny. What Eder gave Portugal was a moment of pure instinct. He rammed his right-footed drive past Hugo Lloris, giving joy to his countrymen.

Ronaldo, one-legged, was directing his troops from the dugout, walking alongside his coach, trying to affect the play in any way he could. Before extra time and again at the switch over, Ronaldo was there with his men, talking to them and inspiring them. There was nothing he could contribute on the field following Dimitri Payet's awkward first-half challenge which brought him to tears. He was powerless.

"It was a really tough moment for me and for the team," Cedric Soares said of Ronaldo's injury. "I think everybody was a little bit in shock but at half time Cristiano had fantastic words for us. He gave us a lot of confidence and he said "Listen people, I'm sure we will win this Euro so stay together and fight for it.""

"It was unbelievable. All the team had a fantastic attitude and showed that when you fight as one you are much much stronger."

There were tears in Ronaldo's eyes at the end of 120 minutes too; a different kind. 

This was a victory earned by Portugal on behalf of Ronaldo. He is their record caps holder, their all-time top scorer, their captain and greatest ever player. But at the Stade de France on Sunday night, he was not one of 11. He was instead one of 11 million. He was just another Portuguese who could only watch, wish, ache and fret as 11 heroes tried their best for a first-ever senior trophy.

The French were disconsolate at the end. They stood around the field wondering just how it all happened. Ronaldo knew how it felt. He felt the exact same thing 12 years previous when Greece snatched the Henry Delauney trophy from Portugal's grasp at the Stadium of Light. This has been a long time coming. And when it did come it was fully deserved.

Maybe the lack of Ronaldo liberated Portugal. He has not always played well at this tournament - he had bad individual games against Iceland, Austria and Poland, and there lingered a suspicion of how Portugal might get on if only Santos could substitute him. Not in a million years was that going to happen other than in the circumstances it transpired.

Portugal froze in the moments between Ronaldo being injured and him going off. After he left though, Nani took the armband and they got down to business. Joao Mario - surely one of the best players here in France - excelled in his midfield battle against Paul Pogba. Pepe defended heroically, so much so that he vomitted in exhaustion - or emotion - when it was finally all over.

There were moments of outright fortune. Andre-Pierre Gignac had the outcome on his right foot with practically the last kick of the 90 minutes. He hit the post. Kingsley Coman outshone his Bayern colleague Renato. 

But it's been one of those tournaments for Portugal; they have relied on their defence. They have masked their deficiencies with strong collective efforts. They tried to play zero risk football to maximise their chances of winning. It wasn't always pretty, but better to play ugly and win than play prettily and already be on the beach.

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But to the beach they can now go, all of them deserving the glory they have gained. In the end they used all 20 outfield players and Santos rotated his lot tactically with great precision and foresight.

Portugal are worthy champions and they did it without the man that was supposed to carry them as far as he could. Ronaldo has won enough games for Portugal on his own, it was time they paid him back. 

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