The UEFA Euro 2016 tournament witnessed several significant events in world football. From the rise of France as one of the superpowers of world football to Wales and Iceland’s dream run as underdogs, the UEFA Euro 2016 saw the beginning of many new things. But, amongst them, probably the most significant was Portugal lifting the trophy. This was the first international trophy for Cristiano Ronaldo who though didn’t have much impact with his goal tally but proved to be instrumental in leading the side.
Portugal Squad: UEFA Euro 2016 squad
The Portugal national team was not the strongest side in the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament. Despite having players like Pepe, Nani and above all Cristiano Ronaldo, They were definitely not the favourites for the Cup. Teams like France, Germany and Spain were expected to make it big in the European tournament taking place in France.
The Portuguese squad was definitely not expected to win the tournament but were under the very able management of coach Fernando Santos. Despite the fact that they overachieved, doesn’t imply that the squad did not have the perfect blend of youth and experience. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma stepped up to the occasion, leading the team brilliantly in the way to the final and knocking off outright tournament favourites France in the final.
Rui Patricio was the goalkeeper in the Portuguese team who provided reliability to the defence as the last line of defence. He put in a stellar performance in the final and provided critical saves throughout the tournament. They had Anthony Lopes and Eduardo as a backup to the then Sporting CP shot-stopper Patricio.
The Defence line of Portugal was not strong. Despite having experienced players like Pepe as a centre-back option, the other players such as centre-back partner Jose Fonte and right-back Cedric Soares was not an A-tier option in defence, and it was up to Patricio and Pepe to provide some stellar performances in the back to keep out the goals from the opposition.
The Midfield was one of the strongest areas for Fernando Santos’s side. An underrated William Carvalho, who played at Sporting CP as a defensive midfielder was one of the players who could put in shifts to control the play. They also got a young Andre Gomes coming up the ranks and players like Joao Moutinho and Adrien Silva who were seasoned campaigners at that time. They also got Renato Sanches who was one of the best young finds of this tournament. Players like Danilo Pereira and Joao Mario functioned greatly as back-ups in the midfield. The team played exceptionally well as a unit.
The forward line of Portugal was decent. Cristiano Ronaldo, the main man in the strike force was joined by wingers Nani and Ricardo Quaresma. It was not a one-man show at UEFA Euro 2016 by Cristiano as Nani and Quaresma played exceptionally well to match up with their main man. Eder and Rafa Siva also provided support from the bench and turned up when needed. This was evident because the team won the tournament despite Ronaldo leaving the pitch before half-time due to an injury in the final.
Portugal as Champions: The Champion’s run
Portugal was the most undermining champions in the recent history of the Euros. They drew all of their matches in group stages to progress into the last 16. Before the finals, They managed to win only one match in the whole tournament in regulation time which was against Wales in the semi-finals. This showed extreme grit and character from the team who fought till the final whistle to grind out victories.
Portugal got one of the easy groups in the tournament where they were expected to qualify easily. Drawn against Hungary, Iceland and Austria, Portugal made a mess of the whole opportunity by drawing all 3 games as they came third in their group behind Hungary and Iceland.
The first match was against Iceland who pulled off an excellent defensive show and managed to keep Portugal at bay in a 1-1 draw. Nani scored the only goal for Portugal in the 31st minute which was nullified by Bjarnason for the Vikings early into the second half. The second match was against Austria which ended in a drab 0-0 draw, despite shooting 23 times in a match. The third match was against Hungary which was important for both the sides and the match was a goal-feast. Both the sides scored three goals. The scoresheet was opened by Gera from Hungary which was cancelled out by Nani before half-time. 15 minutes into the second half, Ronaldo and Dzsudzak scored twice for each team to make a 3-3 scoreline.
Finishing the group stage as the third team in the group, Portugal faced Croatia, one of the strongest sides of the tournament in the Round of 16. Similar to the group-stage, Santos took a defensive approach and looked to break the opposition in counters. The match was goalless in 90 minutes. Both the sides were pretty evenly matched. In the final quarter of the extra time, Quaresma broke the deadlock in the 117th minute to give Portugal a spot in the Quarter-Finals.
In the Quarter-final, Portugal faced Lewandowski’s Poland. The latter scored within two minutes into the game as Poland lead the game by 1-0. But it didn’t last long. Within 33 minutes in the game, Portuguese young gun Renato Sanches levelled the score for Portugal. Neither sides were able to break the deadlock since the two goals and match went to the tie-breakers. Portugal scored with Nani, Ronaldo, Moutinho and Sanches while Poland levelled up with Lewandowski, Gilk and Milik to make it 4-3. Błaszczykowski missed the 4th penalty and Portugal found a place in the UEFA Euro 2016 semi-finals when Ricardo Quaresma converted the 5th spot-kick.
Portugal faced Wales with the battle between two Madrid superstars Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo the keynote behind the fixture. Wales, playing their first European major tournament had done pretty well and progressed to the semi-finals. Portugal was comfortable in that match as Ronaldo and Nani scored in quick succession in the second half. Their defence also did a great job by keeping Garreth Bale silent throughout the match. Portugal had now reached the finals of the UEFA Euro 2016, where they faced a tough challenge in the form of France. But the way Portugal had been throughout the tournament, grinding close victories with a strong mentality and improving with time, They certainly would not go down in the finals surrendering.
The Final vs France
Portugal faced one of the strongest teams of the tournament in the finals. France were certainly the outright favourites to take home the trophy as Portugal was not consistent throughout the tournament in terms of their performance. Moreover, Cristiano took an injury in the 25th minute after colliding with Dimitri Payet and was unable to continue for the rest of the match. France started to blew away ample chances at the start and striker Gignac hit the crossbar in the 93rd minute. Ronaldo, limping, stood by the touchlines and continued to motivate his team. Rui Patricio put in some crucial saves and Portugal didn’t concede in normal time.
Eder, the super-sub scored in the extra-time as he fired past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. The final whistle was blown and Portugal had done it. Finally! Despite losing their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in the match, Portugal showed true character and ability to win it for Portugal. They had finally atoned the loss to Greece in the 2004 UEFA Euros in the final and brought the trophy home.
Portugal did not dominate throughout the whole tournament and some football fans remark them as lucky enough to win the trophy. But, In moments of need, the Portugal players stood up to make a mark. Santos knew his side’s strength and weaknesses and he knew that he didn’t have that much creativity in the midfield to play attacking football. So his side played a defensive approach which helped them in the win.
This team has engraved their names in the history of Portuguese football and laid the foundation for further success. Since the triumph, the Portugal national team has always been on the rise when they won the UEFA Nations League 2 years later defeating the Netherlands. One of the best football teams in the world, Portugal is one of the favourites for Euro 2020.
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