As finals go – that was disappointing. In fact on the whole, Euro 2016 has been disappointing. In much the same way as we have just seen in the English Premier League, there was a distinct lack of quality. That is not for one minute to take anything away from the champions of both competitions, but the similarities are striking. Leicester sacrificed on many occasions, possession of the ball, preferring to stay organized, keeping a solid shape – while hustling and harrying the opposition, to win the ball back – before breaking at pace and utilizing the skill and guile of Riyad Mahrez in conjunction with the speed and tenacity of Jamie Vardy. Portugal were similarly pragmatic, having now famously not won a game over ninety minutes, prior to the semi-final victory against Wales. They relied on a solid team ethic, working incredibly hard without possession, keeping their shape and making lots of tackles, before relying heavily on the contributions of Nani and Ronaldo in the attacking third.
Italy’s success during the tournament, resembled this approach, although the manner in which the back four went about their business was verging on the majestic, and a lesson for all aspiring teenage boys watching the tournament. From Spain’s possession-based football of 2008, reflecting in itself the success of their national champions Barcelona, we can see the game has changed a great deal over the last eight years. In the final it was Ronaldo that all eyes were set upon, was he the man to single-handedly gain Portugal their first tournament trophy. It was not to be, but it was still Ronaldo’s night. His refusal to leave the pitch earlier actually seemed like an attempt gain additional screen time, as it was clear his tournament was over. Posturing, tears, handshakes and hugs from teammates and the opposition alike – if it was the first time you’d watched a game of football, you could be forgiven for believing football was not unlike the WWE, were pre-determined storylines and drama are expertly crafted by the main protagonists to a baying audience.
Well if Ronaldo was to provide the striking moments of quality (and I can’t help thinking certain pundits and commentators are trying to convince us he’s still that capable) it was game over as far as a spectacle was concerned, and the half-time whistle had not even shrilled.
The game fizzled out as per the script Portugal stayed organized, verging on the cynical, and as the game wore on, and the pressure began to build on a home nation surely capable of so much more – they to became reluctant to force the issue for fear of a counter attack that could win Portugal the game. So it was no surprise that they paid little attention to the late lumbering substitute Eder with his languid, cumbersome approach – surely a guy who experienced moments of modest success leading the line for Braga in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, before struggling for game time last season in a Swansea team that was desperate for goals, couldn’t be the man to end this contest. And there it was, with the freedom of Paris opening before his eyes, he graciously accepted, providing the decisive moment.
Of course, it won’t be remembered as Eder’s final if anyone remembers the final at all. No. That honour will go to Ronaldo, who decided to adopt the manner of his one-time mentor Fergie, pointing at his watch, gesturing from the sidelines, screaming at teammates, who appeared to be doing nothing wrong at all. This was the Ronaldo show, you have to feel for Fernando Santos, who is that, you ask? He’s the Portugal manager, the man who realized his team’s deficiencies and put in place a plan of action that navigated Portugal to the honour of European Champions. He organized his team, made smart substitutions and backed his men, until the last ten minutes of the final – when Ronaldo took over and stole all the glory! Who’d be Roy Hodgson, who’d be Fernando Santos?
Do you agree? Have your say.