‘The ugly duckling went and scored. Now he’s a beautiful swan’
Fernando Santos delighted with Eder as his Portugal team show they are exactly that
Eder holds the Euro 2016 trophy before leaving Marcoussis on Monday morning. Photograph: EPA
Portugal are celebrating their first-ever title after shocking Euro 2016 hosts France, leaving coach Fernando Santos proud of the strength and unity shown in triumphing without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
This has been a cagey tournament punctuated by moments of magic and it came to a fitting end at the Stade de France, where the main talking point of the opening 90 minutes was the injury that brought the Portuguese captain’s night to a premature end.
Portugal proved they are more than a one-man team, though, securing a 1-0 win against favourites France through Eder’s stunning extra-time strike.
Wild celebrations met the final whistle as the Portuguese clinched a first-ever major tournament, 12 years on from being overturned by unfancied Greece at the end of the European Championship they hosted.
“I’ve always said we’re a team,” coach Santos said, having been applauded into the press conference. “I never hide my thoughts — I always tell my players what’s on my mind.
“I’ve always told them we’ve got great talent but we need to fight more than our opponents, run more than them and be more concentrated than them.
“We have an amazing group. They’ve always believed what I told them: that we could win this.”
It is a feat made all the more impressive given they kicked on without star turn Ronaldo, injured in a challenge by Dimitri Payet during the early exchanges.
Portugal’s captain and talisman may not have been on the field, but still acted as an inspiration to his team-mates on a historic night.
“Our skipper put in an immense effort,” Santos said. “He has amazing team spirit.
“Twice he tried to get back on the pitch but him being there in the dressing room and on the bench was very important for us. He believed — just like myself - that tonight was our night.”
Few would have believed that substitute Eder would be the match winner, though, with his strike leaving Swansea fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief given his underwhelming time in Wales.
“When he came on he told me he would score,” Santos added. “The ugly duckling went and scored. Now he’s a beautiful swan.”
While Portuguese will celebrate into the night and beyond, Les Bleus are left reeling from a galling extra-time defeat on home turf.
France coach Didier Deschamps was as crestfallen as the fans and his players, having failed to make home advantage count like the teams of 1984 and 1998.
“Of course the overriding emotion is of huge disappointment,” the man who captained the Euro 2000 triumph and World Cup success two years before that said. “It’s cruel to lose the final like that.
“You have to accept it, I congratulate Portugal — they are the newly-crowned champions.
“Clearly we had our chances and had the last opportunity (of normal time) with Andre-Pierre Gignac striking the post in stoppage time.
“We weren’t clinical enough, we weren’t cool-headed enough. Perhaps we also lacked a bit of freshness.
“Although I’ve got nothing that I can hold against my players, they gave absolutely everything tonight.
“It really came down to very fine margins. But unfortunately we lacked what was essential. It’s very hard, it’s cruel but we have to accept it, and we’ll have to digest this, all of us.”