Portuguese men of war good enough to win disappointing Euro 2016

11 July 2016 08:53

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

This was not a classic competition by any stretch of the imagination, thanks in no small part to 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.

It was no surprise either to see European football's governing body UEFA defending the format amid criticism from some high-profile figures, having enjoyed record revenues from the largest European Championship ever.

UEFA could also be criticised for other aspects of the tournament but the security operation - in conjunction with local police and private security firms - at venues and fan zones deserves praise.

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.

Both countries were threatened with expulsion but ultimately their early exits were determined on the pitch rather than off it.

The wounds remain particularly raw following England's demise. The last-16 humiliation at the hands of Iceland has sent the Football Association into its latest tailspin.

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, taking on a life of its own just as the 'Will Grigg's on fire' ditty did.

The striker will forever be synonymous with Euro 2016 despite never playing a minute in Northern Ireland's memorable campaign, which saw Michael O'Neill's men to receive a heroes' welcome home after reaching the last 16.

The Republic of Ireland also enjoyed a fine tournament, securing an impressive win against Italy and putting up a solid fight against hosts and favourites France in the first knock-out round.

However, Chris Coleman's Wales were comfortably the outstanding performers of the British and Irish sides.

Making their first major tournament appearance since 1958, they overcame Slovakia and Russia either side of defeat to England to top Group B, then knocked out Northern Ireland before making history in their quarter-final against Belgium.

Hal Robson-Kanu's exceptional turn and strike during the 3-1 win in Lille will live long in the memory, so too 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 at the Stade de France looked a hammer blow to any Portuguese hopes of winning Euro 2016.

As seen regularly during the tournament, though, hard work, organisation and togetherness won through.

Portugal rallied rather than wilted to overcome France thanks to Eder's superb extra-time goal, helping atone for the humiliating loss to Greece at the end of the European Championship they hosted 12 years ago.

The delirious scenes contrasted starkly with the crestfallen French, unable to follow in the footsteps of the classes of 1984 and 1998 by making home advantage count.

The pain of falling at the final hurdle will take a long time to subside, but one day Didier Deschamps and his players will realise how important they have been to their country.

Sunday's final came just 240 days after three bombs were detonated near the ground in St Denis as France faced Germany in a friendly, killing the bombers and a bystander on a November night when 130 died in other terrorist atrocities carried out across the city.

Euro 2016 has transcended football and united France during these difficult times, with the tournament highlighting much of what makes the sport so powerful.

There are tweaks that need to be made and the tournament will not go down as a classic, but it offered hope to many and provided moments that will last a lifetime.

Source: PA