The ultimate day of the underdog as Portugal shock France

Not a final for the ages and not even a result for the age that we live in.
The ultimate day of the underdog as Portugal shock France

Eight months after the Stade de France and Paris were centres of terror, last night the same venue and the same city were meant to be places only of joy for the French.

Instead, thanks to one moment of extra time magic from Eder, the euphoria belonged entirely to a stubborn, well-drilled Portuguese team — one based more on functionality than flair — which had seemed robbed of its stardust when injury forced Cristiano Ronaldo early out of the decider.

Instead, the country which had been shocked by Greece on its own turf in 2004 did the same to France on theirs in 2016.

And much as one could feel entitled to celebrate the belated coronation of Portugal as champions at last, it was hard not to feel enormous sympathy for the French.

Ultimately, the final mirrored the tournament as a whole. The BBC’s John Motson, who has seen more than a fewin his time, called it simply and correctly before the final. “Not a great tournament,” said Motty, “but it did have great moments.”

One of the reasons Euro 2016 feel short of greatness as a showcase for football at the highest level is that it lacked a game for the ages.

Germany against France in the semi-final threatened to come close but, though never less than compelling as a contest, the world champions’ chronic lack of a finishing touch robbed the match of the truly competitive edge it required to take the drama to the next level.

The ding dong game of the month was the exceptionally high-scoring 3-3 draw between Hungary and Portugal while the shock and awe award went to Iceland’s 2-1 defeat of England.

But probably the most complete team performance, in a game that always had you on the edge of your seat, was delivered by Wales in their 3-1 win over Belgium.

The action already boasted a candidate for goal of the tournament when Radja Nainggolan’s rocket sent a seemingly rampant Belgium on their way but, playing like top dogs not underdogs, the Welsh turned the tables in sensational fashion, their emphatic response even including another Euro 2016 golden goal contender in Hal Robson-Kanu’s audacious Cruyff turn and finish to give Chris Coleman’s team the lead.

From an Irish perspective, a great moment and a great game came together in the emotional high of Robbie Brady’s 85th minute winner against Italy, though more sober reflection has to admit that, with the Italians already through and able to rest most of their A-team, this was a defining case of the expanded format of Euro 2016 throwing a lifeline to one of the lesser nations.

But Martin O’Neill’s players are still entitled to huge credit for the way they made the most of their last chance.

As if taking its theme from Leicester City winning the Premier League, Euro 2016 allowed the small guys to be heroes, even if only, in some cases, just for one day. So take a bow Wales, Iceland, Northern Ireland, ourselves and Albania.

The latter’s 1-0 win over Romania in their final group game might not have been enough to extend their stay in the competition but, for reaching their first ever finals and then performing with distinction in a group containing the hosts, the Albanians were deservedly feted on their return to their homeland.

Moments and memories which helped make this tournament an experience to savour also occurred off the pitch: The Icelandic thunderclap, ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’, Payet’s tears after his goal against Romania in the Stade de France and the infectious good-humour of the Irish supporters which, despite the understandable worries about security, contributed greatly to the generally uplifting atmosphere around the tournament as whole after grotesque hooliganism had initially threatened to strangle the good vibes at birth.

Who’d a thunk we’d leave Euro 2016 newly regarding Robbie Savage as an international treasure?

And has there ever been a funnier passage of live football analysis than poor Steve McClaren’s slow-motion collapse from hubris to horror on Sky as he watched Iceland take the lead against England?

For all that, and more, I’ll look back fondly on Euro 2016.

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