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Portugal shows resolve to break through for Euro title

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When three-time world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo left the pitch in the 25th minute of the 2016 European championships, it appeared Portugal was in trouble and had no chance against the host team, France.

The team, who came into the tournament with not as talented of rosters according to soccer analysts, showed much resolve that they have displayed throughout the tournament. They were able to keep the French out of its goal for 90 minutes and in extra time, were able to sneak the ball past the French defense to win in its first ever major tournament title, 1-0 on Sunday, July 11 at the Stade de France in Paris.

The French team, who got the best of defending World Cup champion Germany in the semifinals, dictated the pace and controlled possession from the beginning, until Ronaldo went down with the knee injury. The Portuguese didn’t panic, instead played solid defense, led by Pepe, who came back after missing the semifinal win against Wales, and its goalkeeper Rui Patricio, had stellar performances.

The French did have its chances as Antoine Griezman, who scored both of France’s goals in the semifinal and led all scorers with six tallies in the tournament, couldn’t put home a seventh as his header from point-blank range sailed just over the crossbar and Andre- Pierre Gignac got a shot past Patricio two minute into stoppage time at the end of the second half, but hit the inside of the post. For France, as the game wore on and not capitalizing on its chances, the last thing they wanted was the game to come down to penalty kicks. Portugal, though, had other ideas. In the 109th minute, Eder, the third and final substitute on the Portuguese side, got some room in the French defense and scored on a perfect kick on the lower left-hand side past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Eder,  who hadn’t scored in the tournament or in major competition for Portugal, was the unlikely hero as his team held off the French, stunning them and the home crowd.

Portugal had always been a solid team that would make a good run in tournaments, but would be eliminated late in the knockout rounds. The last time they made the finals, Ronaldo was just a 19-year old in 2004 and that year, made the finals of the European Cup as the host country, only to be upset by Greece. This time, they were the ones who shocked the soccer world, defeating the French and its home fans.

It wasn’t the best soccer game played. The French controlled possession for the majority and played good enough to win, but it just wasn’t their night. Portugal didn’t appear to be playing its best capable soccer in the tournament, winning only one group play match in regulation and finishing third in their group, which, under World Cup rules, would have eliminated them from the knockout stage. But when they got there, they defeated Croatia in extra time, in the Round of 16, got the best of Poland on penalty kicks in the quarterfinal, and got two late second-half goals to upend Wales in the semifinal. In the end, no matter how it was played, Portugal finally reached the mountain top in major competition, European Cup champions of 2016.