French tears, Portuguese ectasy and lasting memories of Euro 2016

Portugal's historic win against hosts France was a fitting end to Euro 2016 '“ a cagey tournament punctuated by moments of quality.

France's coach Didier Deschamps watched his side lose to Portugal in the final. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
France's coach Didier Deschamps watched his side lose to Portugal in the final. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

This was not a classic competition by any stretch of the imagination, thanks in no small part to a new, 24-team format. Only eight teams were eliminated at the end of the group stage and it appeared little coincidence that less-fancied nations favoured a more cautious approach, in the knowledge that finishing third gave them a decent chance of making it through to the knock-out stages.

Uefa may be criticised for some aspects of the tournament but the security operation – in conjunction with local police and private security firms – at venues and fan zones deserves praise.

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At a time of heightened alert after November’s terror attacks in Paris, any potential threats of terrorism were quickly extinguished.

The only violence that marred the tournament was created by so-called supporters, with the ugliest scenes involving Russian hooligans attacking England fans after days of trouble in Marseille.

On the pitch, England’s last-16 humiliation at the hands of Iceland sent the Football Association into its latest tailspin, but Iceland fully deserved their win and their spirit was summed by the fans’ Viking hand-clap – a show of togetherness and strength that was embraced by others as the tournament went on.

Chris Coleman’s Wales were comfortably the outstanding performers of the home nations.Hal Robson-Kanu’s exceptional turn and strike during the 3-1 win over Belgium will live long in the memory, as will their first-ever semi-final appearance against Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal.

The Real Madrid star dragged his country into the final, so his exit midway through the first half on Sunday looked a hammer blow to any Portuguese hopes of winning Euro 2016. But they rallied and overcame France thanks to Eder’s superb extra-time goal.

The delirious scenes contrasted with the crestfallen French, whose wasteful finishing came back to haunt them in the final, even tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann missing his chances. Ten years after losing on penalties to Italy in the World Cup final, France still have not learned to finish teams off when it counts.

“We didn’t have the luck of champions,” said Griezmann.

Coach Didier Deschamps, pictured, said the team was physically “lacking freshness” and a lack of spontaneity invariably led to chances being snatched at. “We can’t throw away all we’ve done,” said Deschamps. “But we let a good chance slip.”