In 420 minutes of knockout football they conceded a single goal and, however hard it may have been to watch, that is still some achievement.
The success fulfilled a vow Cristiano Ronaldo had made as he left the pitch in tears after losing in the final of Euro 2004, but he was not on the field to see it. Again he left in tears, this time on a stretcher. And so the glory went to the Lille forward Eder, who smashed in a 109th-minute winner from 30 yards.
Again Ronaldo was in tears at the end, but this time they were of joy. Ronaldo was forced off with a knee injury sustained in an early challenge from Dimitri Payet and that, inevitably, shaped the dynamic of the game. As the West Ham midfielder won the ball with his left foot, his right knee thudded into Ronaldo’s left leg, leaving the forward in tears – the challenge was perhaps clumsy but it certainly wasn’t malicious; the referee Mark Clattenburg didn’t even deem it a foul.
Ronaldo struggled on, had the knee strapped but eventually, after 25 minutes, was forced to accept that the injury was too bad for him to continue.
Ronaldo’s tears marked a cruel symmetry for a player who has taken his country to four of the seven semi-finals they’ve played in. He is 31; it could be this is the last we see of him at a major tournament.
Whatever the quibbles about the way he shows his frustration with his team-mates, whatever strange forms of expression his ego has found, Ronaldo has done enormous amounts to raise the level of a country of just 10.5million people.
Even before Ronaldo went off, there had been a strangely apocalyptic feel to the evening, as large numbers of swallow circled the stadium, feasting on a swarm of moths, apparently drawn to the stadium because of the lights being left on all the previous night as part of security measures. The moths were everywhere, one settling on Ronaldo’s right eyelid as he sought treatment on his damaged left knee.
The suspicion had been this would be an attritional game with Portugal allowing France possession and stifling them as they had Poland and Wales. France began brightly – the surge of the singing of the Marseillaise driving them forward as it had in the opening minutes of the semi-final against Germany. Antoine Griezmann met Payet’s cross to force a save from Rui Patricio after 10 minutes but the stoppages for Ronaldo’s treatment disrupted whatever rhythm the game had. There was a smart turn and shot from Moussa Sissokho that Rui Patricio batted away, but Portugal had barely been troubled by half-time.
In fact, with the very major caveat of losing Ronaldo, the first half went pretty much to plan for them. In a strange sense, Ronaldo has been so much of an adjunct in this tournament, losing him did little to affect Portugal’s strength, with is the tenacity of the midfield.
Santos’s plan has essentially been to strangle the game with two banks of four and hope one or other of his forwards snatched something.
Obviously Ronaldo is more likely to do that than Quaresma, but the fundamentals changed little – an indication of how irrelevant the allegation that Portugal are a one-man team had become. It could even be argued Portugal retained possession rather better without Ronaldo, rather than constantly trying to release him with quick early balls.
The second half followed much the same pattern as the first as France, lacking much in the way of imagination or flair struggled to break Portugal down. Kingsley Coman was introduced for the ineffective Payet just before the hour and immediately created two chances. Another substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post after an unexpected moment of skill in injury-time.
And then, from nowhere, came the Portuguese surge. Raphael Guerreiro smacked a free-kick against the bar and within a minute Eder, on as a substitute, drifted in from the left and smashed in a winner whose quality was wholly out of keeping with the game. But in Portugal in will be replayed over and over again.
Referee: M Clattenburg
Portugal: Rui Patricio, Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, William Carvalho, Renato Sanches (Eder 78), Adrien Silva (Joao Moutinho 66), Joao Mario,Nani, Ronaldo (Quaresma 25). Subs not used: Lopes, Bruno Alves, Carvalho, Vieirinha, Andre Gomes, Rafa,Eliseu,Eduardo,Danilo Pereira.
France: Lloris, Sagna, Koscielny, Umtiti, Evra, Sissoko (Martial 110), Pogba, Matuidi, Payet (Coman 58), Griezmann, Giroud (Gignac 78). Subs not used: Mandanda, Jallet, Rami, Kante, Cabaye, Schneiderlin, Mangala,Digne,Costil.