Little did he know, he would cry again later, only the next time it would be tears of joy.
After just 9 minutes of play, Cristiano Ronaldo sat on the pitch, grabbing his left leg near the knee, tears rolling down his face. If it wasn’t for an aggressive Dimitri Payet tackle, he probably would have been fine, but we’ll never know for sure.
A physio ran over and sprayed his knee with this magical substance, and he managed to continue playing. No card was shown after the tackle.
France were aggressive from the kickoff, creating chances every time they had possession, and it was usually up to goalkeeper Rui Patrício to keep the ball out of the back of the net. It wasn’t that Portugal’s defence was bad, it was just that the French had at least one of four players capable of scoring in Portugal’s final third constantly. Pepe and Co. made key stops at times, but Patrício is the real reason why France didn’t bag a few early goals.
After the 25th minute mark, Cristiano went down on the pitch for the final time, his face once again betraying the emotions he felt; tears poured down his cheeks as his teammates consoled him, and he passed the captain’s sleeve off to Nani.
Motivated by whatever Cristiano told him, Nani could be seen yelling “Let’s go!”, and to the surprise of many, the loss of their prized gem sparked an energy in Portugal’s offense.
Suddenly it seemed like both sides had switched skills like the Monstars, as Portugal, decked in their red kits, mounted an attack that seemed to drain France of all courage and confidence. Portugal couldn’t find the gas pedal until the Euro Final, but it’s better late than never. Oddly enough, they had to lose their star player to find it.
When you play well as a team, you don’t have to have a key player that you rely on for everything, and Portugal proved today. Toss in a talented teenager, throw in a late sub who’s never done anything internationally, and you’ve got yourself a Euro-winning side, my friend.
Portugal boss Fernando Santos held his face in his hands at times, too nervous or in disbelief at missed shots or close saves, but his players held it together for 90 minutes, 65 of which were without that one really gifted winger who’d easily steal your girl.
The first half of extra time was tense for both sides, especially for the Portuguese, as Frenchman Andre-Pierre Signac (who came on for Olivier Giroud) had some great opportunities to score; one close strike hit the left post, nearly going in and ending the stalemate. Cristiano Ronaldo had been on the sidelines during this time, gesticulating energetically, apparently beginning his managing apprenticeship on the international stage.
The match looked like it would head to penalties as neither side could manage to send the ball past either keeper, but that was until the 109th minute when Portugal mounted an attack.
Having just nearly won the match on a Raphael Guerreiro free kick, João Moutinho played a simple pass to Eder, a striker who had as of today never logged an international goal in a competitive match.
If you’re gonna transform yourself into a hero, today would be as good as any, Eder.
A major tournament trophy has evaded Portugal in their entire history, but in the 109th minute, Eder struck a deep goal, a shot that’s out of the box, out of his range, and only in Cristiano’s. Well, that’s what we thought.
A low, blistering strike made it’s way past Hugo Lloris, one that he probably could have saved on most days, but today was not most days.
Today was the 2016 Euro Final.
Portugal won it, and the star they apparently couldn’t live without wasn’t ever a part of the match. Eder, Nani, Pepe and the rest of the Portuguese side stepped up when they were called to action, not by their manager, not by the state of the match, but by their desire to win such an elusive trophy for their country and for their captain.
Cristiano desperately wanted to raise it one day, but nobody thought he ever would. He only played for 25 minutes and didn’t see much action in that time, but his guidance in the technical zone and inspiring emotion propelled Portugal into a position where they could attack France’s final third and keep the ball past the center line.
He wasn’t on the pitch when Eder struck that low-lying goal, but he certainly influenced that play and drove his team past a menacing French side. Fernando Santos was an effective manager throughout the Euros, but 1 win and six draws isn’t great football. Cristiano Ronaldo served as an inspiration that helped his team win once, but it was the one that counts.