After a month of wild matches, underdogs and upsets, Euro 2016 came to a close last night in France's capital city of Paris. Going into the match, the French had a lot going for them. They had scored a pile of goals and already taken care of 2014 World Cup champs Germany in the semi-finals. As the host nation for the tournament, they were backed by tons of joyous, singing fans (not to mention that France had already won both the 1994 Euros and 1998 World Cup as hosts). There was even a lovely victory parade bus made for the French team seen speeding its way to Paris.
France already have a bus ready for their victory parade if they win tonight! pic.twitter.com/jNxlf1aUYj
— Futbol Agent (@Futbol_Agent_) July 10, 2016
What could possibly stand in their way?
Well, Portugal maybe.
Against all odds
And let's be clear, for most of the match, it was a big maybe. The French team was holding on to the ball very well and had the most dangerous chances. Portugal's defence, led by Real Madrid's Pepe, was strong indeed. But it still felt like it was only a matter of time before France got a goal. And boy did they ever come close! Just ask French forward André-Pierre Gignac whose shot beat everyone...except the post! Gah!
Then there was Cristiano Ronaldo. Arguably the best player in the world, he was always going to be Portugal's greatest weapon...until he went of injured in 25th minute of match. What awful luck!
Without their best player and getting overplayed by France, who could save Portugal? Oh, that's easy.
"The ugly duckling became beautiful"
In the 109th minute (normally, a match only lasts 90 minutes, so things were already running long), the Portuguese striker Éder scored a lovely goal on France's excellent goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Lloris. It was all that Portugal would need to first their first-ever major tournament with a 1–0 victory.
This is him taking the shot.
And this is the entire Portuguese team losing their minds with joy.
Éder was the most unlikely hero. He had barely played all tournament, only being used as a substitute late in their first two matches. And he hadn't scored. So when he came on as a substitute in the final, it seemed to be more about Portugal being desperate after losing Ronaldo. But sports can be funny that way. The best players aren't always the heroes. As Portugal's coach, Fernando Santos said of Éder scoring the winner, "The ugly duckling became beautiful." We're not sure if that's actually a compliment. But we're also pretty certain that Éder doesn't mind much either way.
So now the gorgeous coastal country of Portugal gets to finally celebrate a major win. All across the nation, parties went deep into the night (and are probably still going now). Even in places like Toronto and Montreal (two cities with lots of Portuguese immigrants), hundreds of joyous fans spilled out into the streets, waving flags in a spontaneous parade. For a country with such a proud football heritage, it's a beautiful moment for Portugal. Especially when you consider this. Back in 2004, the Euros were hosted by Portugal. They made it all the way to the final, only to lose 1–0 in front of their home fans.
Congrats! Some things are worth the wait, right?