Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

Portugal without Ronaldo beats France for Euro title

SAINT-DENIS, France — Portugal's players crowded around Cristiano Ronaldo as he sat on the turf, but their tearful captain couldn't withstand the pain of his knee injury any longer.

The Portuguese had to win their first major trophy the hard way Sunday, stunning France 1-0 after extra time in the European Championship final — having played without Ronaldo from the 25th minute.

Two hours after being carried off on a stretcher, the three-time world player of the year returned a champion for the first time with his country.

"I had bad luck because I had a small injury in the beginning of the game, but my colleagues did their part — they run, they fight," said Ronaldo, who has already won every major club honor. "Nobody believed in Portugal, but we won."

An unlikely scorer secured the pre-tournament outsiders a title at last.

It could be an uncomfortable few months ahead for Eder, the unheralded striker who will return shortly to French club Lille after breaking French hearts with his 109th-minute goal.

"The ugly duckling became beautiful," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said.

A second-half substitute, Eder scored only his fourth goal in 29 appearances for Portugal with a low shot from 25 yards past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

"Cristiano told me I would be scoring the winning goal," Eder said. "He gave me strength and positive energy."

In doing so, Portugal denied the French a third final victory on home soil to add to Euro '84 and the 1998 World Cup.

"It was tough because we lost our main man, and we had all our hopes pinned on him because he's a player who can score a goal at any minute," Portugal defender Pepe said. "When he said he couldn't go on, I tried to tell my teammates that we have to win it for him. That we were going to fight for him."

It was a mostly dull and stodgy final, but the record books will only show that Portugal went from third place in its group to champion, and with little help from Ronaldo in its last match.

The championship's first 24-team tournament became a reality over the past month, but the quality of play deteriorated. Such a sterile showpiece — the first European Championship final to be scoreless after 90 minutes — seemed a fitting climax.

"We weren't clinical enough," said France coach Didier Deschamps, who lifted the World Cup in the stadium as a player in 1998. "We weren't cool-headed enough."

Even France forward Antoine Griezmann, the tournament's leading scorer, couldn't rise to the big occasion. There was no seventh goal of Euro 2016 from the Atletico Madrid forward, who also lost out in the Champions League final six weeks ago to Ronaldo's Real Madrid.

Ronaldo watched the game forlornly on the touchline as strapping was attached before dragging himself back onto the field. But his mobility was restricted. The clock hit 23 minutes and Ronaldo ripped off his captain's armband and tossed it on the turf. Ronaldo was consoled by Nani, who embraced his former Manchester United teammate as the armband was transferred.

Unlike his rival Lionel Messi, the Argentina and Barcelona forward, the 31-year-old Ronaldo has now filled the medal void on the major stage. It's a rapid turnaround for a team that exited the 2014 World Cup in the group stage.

"It's something unbelievable in my career," he said. "Something I deserve."

 
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