At the beginning of the 2016 European Championship no one gave Portugal any chance of making it to the last four let alone winning the championship. And the prospects of making it to the latter stages of the tournament hit a further low after their performances in the group stage.
The Portuguese started their campaign against the minnows Iceland. It was expected to be a straightforward affair for Fernando Santos’ men, and the match was going according to the script as a Nani goal ensured that his team went into the break with a slender advantage.
However, Birkir Bjarnason brought the scores level with his 50th minute strike and then Iceland frustrated their rivals to secure a commendable 1-1 draw from their first match at a major international tournament.
That match prompted Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo to say some uncharitable things about Lars Lagerback’s side. The Real Madrid forward accused the nation of 333,000 inhabitants of having a small team mentality, and went on to say that they wouldn’t go too far ahead with their play. Ronaldo’s comments were construed as him losing the plot and it threatened to derail Portugal’s campaign.
There was more frustration for the Portuguese as they were held to a scoreless draw by Austria, in a match where Santos’ men missed numerous chances. Their final group game against Hungary also resulted in a draw. However, unlike the match against Austria, it was a freewheeling affair as both teams scored three goals each.
Ronaldo shone brightly in the game as he scored a brace to become the first man to score in four successive European Championships. He also assisted the other goal that his team scored. In the other match in the same group, Iceland defeated Austria 2-1 with a last gasp goal, which ensured that Portugal went to the knockout round as one of the best third place teams in the group stage.
Prior to Portugal, no team in the history of the Euros had gone on to win the competition after failing to win any of their group games.
Portugal were helped in their quest for glory by the fact that they were placed in the top half of the draw which all the European powerhouses had somehow conspired to miss and they were lumped together in the second half of the bracket. It ensured that Portugal’s passage was relatively easier.
Santos’ men secured a 1-0 win over Croatia after a 119th goal by Ricardo Quaresma to secure their passage to the last eight, where they met Poland.
Portugal again failed to secure a result in the 90 minutes and then in the next 30 minutes of extra time. However, all their penalties were on target as they qualified to the semi-final with a 5-3 result in the shootout.
Wales, the other overachievers at the tournament, were dispatched 2-0 in the semi-final. Ronaldo and Nani grabbed a goal apiece to help their side make the summit clash.
The task for the Portugal national team was uphill as they were up against the hosts France, who had gotten better as the tournament progressed. It was another cagey affair from Portugal as they failed to muster up a goal in normal time – their task having being compounded after Ronaldo was stretchered off early on in the game.
But in this fairytale there had to be an unlikely hero.
Video courtesy: MrChenCJCR
Eder, a butt of many jokes and countless memes on the internet, secured his place in Portuguese history with a remarkable goal from distance that ended his national team’s long wait for maiden silverware.