Portugal is the Euro 2016 champion after defeating the red hot favourites France despite losing their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo through an early injury.
Have you read Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf?
It’s Woolf’s depiction of a moth as she watches it going through its death throes. A moment which is, on one hand, mesmerising and tragic, and yet so boring and mundane.
And that’s what I thought of at the end of the Euro 2016 Final between Portugal and France. A match that immortalised by a single shot of the greatest player in the world sobbing on the turf as a moth lands on his nose to see what all the fuss was about.
It was France v Portugal.
It was not a final anyone expected.
It was attack v defence.
It was a team playing against a one man band.
In many ways, Portugal is like the moth flapping around your bedroom attracted by the luminosity of your Kindle. It’s aggravating; unsubtle, and unattractive – a pain in the ass and you want it dead.
They came into the final having only won one game in 90-minutes, and that was against a Welsh side that left their boots in the changing rooms. They were very nearly eliminated from the competition after two bore draws against Iceland and Austria. Cristiano Ronaldo saved them from despair with two stunning goals in a 3-3 draw with Hungary.
Not since 1986 and Diego Maradona’s Argentina have I seen a side so heavily reliant on one man. It was Ronaldo who also stole the fire from the belly of the Welsh dragon. If Portugal were going to win Euro 2016, Ronaldo would have to have a stormer.
I said at the beginning of the competition that France would not win Euro 2016 despite being favourites. I thought they were too weak at the back to hold the stronger teams at bay. Fortunately, for the French, Didier Deschamps realised quickly that Adil Rami was a disaster waiting to happen and replaced him with the impressive Samuel Umtitti. The French were also fortunate enough never to play against a side that had a forward line capable of testing them.
And yet, after Portugal beat Wales to book their place in the final against France, I changed my mind. There was no way on earth Portugal could beat the French on their home turf; that’s not the way the French do things. When they host major finals, they win. Portugal, the one man band, were never going to be worthy European Champions.
Back to 1986 and Maradona dragged Argentina over the finishing line by his sheer brilliance. Ronaldo was having a bad tournament. But even playing at 50% of his normal capability he was good enough to take his teammates by the hand and show them the way.
Within the first 10-minutes, he let go. They were about to get lost in the dark, and the world was going to find out if they would ever emerge. Dimitri Payet charged into the Real Madrid striker, won the ball cleanly, but also seemed to damage Ronaldo’s knee in the process.
The Real Madrid star tried to run it off. It became apparent to the millions watching around the world that he wouldn’t be able to continue when he broke down crying. Not only were they tears of disappointment that at the age of 31 his chances of playing in games like this were going to be few and far between. He also knew his side didn’t have a cat in hells chance of winning without him.
The inspirational leader was not going to feature in the final.
Would Portugal manage to play a tune with the one man band?
My son never crawled forward. He always crawled backwards. And that’s how Portugal have played football during this tournament. They are tough to break down. They play the ball backwards and sideways in class Michael Carrick style. Nothing changed. If anything it got worse when their star man went off injured.
The first half encapsulated the tournament for me. It was boring. International football has become an eyesore. The need to win is much greater than the need to entertain. There were also clear signs that teams were not being brave enough. There were no willing risk takers.
I swear Portugal was set up to win this thing on penalties.
The moths were interesting.
The hairstyles of Paul Pogba and Ricardo Quaresma were interesting. The signs of smoke bellowing from the Eiffel Tower as police fought running battles with the French supporters was interesting.
Back on the pitch?
There was nothing interesting.
And then Deschamps made a brave substitution and removed Payet from the game to be replaced by Kingsley Coman. Granted, Payet didn’t have his best game, but when you have someone as wooden as Blaise Matuidi on your side, he looks substitute fodder if you ask me. Matuidi isn’t going to get you a goal. I don’t know what Matuidi does. Payet is different gravy. It was a decision Deschamps would later regret.
Coman had an immediate impact crossing for Antoine Griezmann to head over from five yards, and putting Olivier Giroud through on goal only to see his shot saved by the Portuguese keeper.
France was in total control through the entire second half without threatening. Then with the game eking into injury time, substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac made Pepe look like a donkey inside the penalty area before skewing his shot into the base of the post.
That was the closest anyone got within 90-minutes. We were going to have another 30-minutes. We were almost certainly heading to penalties.
And then something happened to Portugal in extra time. It looked like the rope-a-dope. They had done nothing for 90-minutes. Was their plan to allow the French to run out of steam?
Eder came off the bench for the ineffective Renato Sanches and nearly scored for Portugal when Hugo Lloris saved his downward header from a rare corner from Fernando Santos’s side.
Then in the 108th minute, Portugal had a free kick on the edge of the box. It’s about this time that their one man band would fire the ball into the stands, as he had done 40+ times before in the main championships. Instead, the young full-back Raphael stepped up to the plate and curled a shot into the crossbar.
It didn’t go in, but it did give the side an added boost. Suddenly, after 100+ minutes of defensive and negative football, Portugal looked like they wanted to win. A patched up Ronaldo was prowling the technical area barking out orders like a man possessed. Eder picked the ball up from just inside the French half; drove forward, cut inside and smashed the ball across the ground and beyond Lloris to win the tie for the Portuguese.
The Portuguese players and coaching staff hurled themselves on Eder like he was Jon Snow, and by the time he emerged, the French had 10-minutes to find a solution to a mess they should never have been in in the first place.
Anthony Martial was brought off the bench to replace the best French player of the night Moussa Sissoko, but it was too little too late. It was France who took on the role of the dying moth and I am not sure even Virginia Woolf could have turned that 120-minutes into anything but the dross that it was.