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Football and UEFA win as Portugal reap rewards of new format.

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Portugal sealed their first ever European Championships title with a win over France in extra-time last night in Saint-Denis thanks to a goal from an unlikely source in the form of Eder. The forward was brought on in the second half to bring more directness to the Portuguese attack and he went one better with a stunning goal from outside the box which left goalkeeper Hugo Lloris baffled and the French faithful in heartbreak.

Unfancied before a ball was even kicked, Portugal were clear underdogs due to the fact that they hadn’t been as impressive as a finalist should’ve been. That unlikeliness was compounded by the fact that star man and captain Cristiano Ronaldo picked up an injury after a poor challenge on him by Dimitri Payet. He was forced to leave the pitch midway through the first half. But, Portugal showed their true grit and determination to claw thier way to victory at the end of the night to seal a first major honour in the country’s footballing history.

Portugal’s fine use of youth over the generations, particularly in attack, has finally earned them the success they’ve missed for so long. A country which has produced the likes of Eusebio, Figo, Rui Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo overtime now has the likes of Renato Sanches, Joao Mario and Andre Gomes to look forward to. It is also worth noting the success Sporting CP’s academy had last night. 10 of the 14 players involved in the final were at one point honed at the Lisbon club – which has served its country well for the last few generation.

Portugal had a fine mix of experience and youth in their 23-man-troop. Nani, Patricio, Pepe and Ronaldo – the usual suspects in the side complemented the new boys really well. A large part of this team were runners-up in the UEFA EURO U-21 Championships last summer as well. They’ll be glad they got the big fish this time around. A huge amount of credit must go to Nani as well. He took on the captain’s role after Ronaldo was forced off the game yesterday and he was able to carry his team past the finish line successfully.

Another factor that was a huge part in Portugal’s glory was UEFA’s new format of having 4 of the 6 best third placed teams qualifying to the knockout rounds. Portugal finished third in Group F behind Hungary and Iceland, having drawn all 3 of their group games. They went past Croatia and Poland in their own long way, needing extra time and penalties respectively, before comfortably going past Wales in the semi-final.

The three other teams that made it through as the best third-placed teams were Slovakia, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. UEFA’s new format sure benefits these nations looking to grow in football, especially Slovakia who’ve had a war-torn past. With Northern Ireland’s qulification, a fiesty albeit entertaining all-British clash was set up with Wales which proved to be a great spectacle for the fans of both nations – another element UEFA got right. Republic of Ireland, meanwhile got a tie with hosts France – one they almost won.

The entertainment bought on by the fans was a testament to the the success of the tournament. With Iceland’s now-infamous ‘Viking Clap’ which was later adopted by France, and Northern Ireland’s internet-perpetuated ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’ song helping to create a brilliant atmosphere in most games. Apart from the crowd trouble in Russia’s game with England, the fans were on par throughout the competition and helped re-establish the friendliness in France after a sad few months prior.

The players, too deserve acknowledgement for the show they were able to put up. Despite several games going into half-time with no goals, the players managed to maintain their competitive streak for the month. Some staggering strikes like Xherdan Shaqiri’s bicycle from outside the box and Luka Modric’s volley against Turkey put a nice shine on the tournament. The individual performances along with underdogs Wales and Iceland managing to go further than expected, beating Belgium and England repsectively along the way showed why this tournament was one of the best in recent years.

A tournament well hosted, well conducted and won by a team that showed that it was well deserved. Portugal sealed their first ever major honour after a month of scintillating football in France.

Cristiano Ronaldo Didier Deschamps Eder france Iceland Nani portugal Renato Sanches wales

About Karan Tejwani

Football fan with massive interest in Europe. Also cover youth football from across Europe.

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