Portugal are 2016 UEFA European Championship winners thanks to a 1-0 victory over France after extra-time at Stade de France on Sunday.
The hosts’ wait for a third Euro title goes on, while the Portuguese are celebrating their first major international crown.
It took until the 109th minute for the deadlock to be broken in Saint-Denis, but when it finally was by Eder, it was worth the wait. The Lille OSC man let fly from outside the box, and Hugo Lloris in the home goal could do nothing to keep it out.
Despite their obvious disappointment at having lost the final, Didier Deschamps’ men can leave the tournament with their heads held high. Les Bleus already proved over the past month that the future for the France national team is bright.
Speaking with journalists after the final whistle at Stade de France, as reported by Ligue1.com, the 47-year-old tactician pulled no punches and admitted that his players were not clinical or composed enough to earn the trophy.
We threw away a great chance to be European champions. Of course the overriding emotion is huge disappointment. It's cruel to lose the final like that. I have to congratulate Portugal. Clearly we had our opportunities and we weren't clinical enough. We weren't cool-headed enough, but I can't hold anything against my players. They gave everything tonight. I don't think we played with the brakes on by any means. We'd have loved to win this trophy for the fans. There are positives, but it's hard to see them at the moment. Everything we've experienced over the past few weeks and months has been positive so I'm just disappointed we couldn't win this trophy for the millions of fans. I'm not going to think about myself tonight. I'll need some time to digest this, just like the players.
Substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac was presented with a glorious chance late in the match, and despite some sublime control to create the chance, he arguably should have scored when instead he hit the post.
Had the Tigres UANL man’s shot gone in, then France would be champions instead, but the game was decided by fine margins, and Portugal emerged victorious.
For Les Bleus, the post-mortem begins now, and when Deschamps watches the final back, he will probably feel that he could have handled things better and made different changes at different moments.
It all started to go wrong for the hosts when star man Cristiano Ronaldo was forced off for the Portuguese after 25 minutes. The Real Madrid superstar suffered a heavy knock after a collision with Dimitri Payet and was unable to continue—despite several brave attempts to play on.
From that moment on, complacency began to set in among the French players, and that is something Deschamps should have addressed before his first substitution after 58 minutes.
Kingsley Coman was ready to enter the pitch before the second half got under way, and he appeared to be preparing to come on, only for Deschamps to decide against the switch at the break.
The 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 UEFA Euro-winning former captain should have gone with his initial gut feeling at this moment.
Once introduced, the Bayern Munich starlet was one of the best players on the pitch, and had he been introduced 13 minutes earlier, France could have made a more dynamic start to the second 45.
By the time Coman was brought on, the match had lost a significant amount of intensity, and many players appeared to accept the inevitability of extra-time and penalties even at that early stage.
The decision to replace Payet was also questionable. Although the West Ham star had not enjoyed a good first hour in Saint-Denis, he is one of the few players in the hosts’ squad capable of producing a flash of brilliance from out of nothing.
Without Payet on the pitch, France became more predictable and less likely to conjure up the magic moment to beat the brilliant Rui Patricio in the Portugal goal.
Deschamps’ second mistake was bringing Olivier Giroud off after 78 minutes and replacing him with Gignac.
Although the Tigres star hit the post and was inches away from winning France the Henri Delaunay trophy in 90 minutes, something that would have seen the France coach hailed as a genius, bringing Giroud off effectively ended Antoine Griezmann’s final as well as the Arsenal man’s.
Although Gignac is a target man like Giroud, the former’s ability to bring others into play is not as strong as the latter’s, and the former Olympique de Marseille man was never likely to combine as well with Griezmann as the Gunners star.
Deschamps’ third and final change was the introduction of Anthony Martial in place of Moussa Sissoko. The Newcastle United utility man was Les Bleus’ most impressive performer until his exit, and his combination of energy and pace unsettled Portuguese left-back Raphael Guerreiro.
Bringing off his best player—on the night—and the one he had seemingly built his starting XI around for the final was a bizarre move from Deschamps.
If anything, Martial would have been better coming on for Griezmann, who had essentially been a spectator since Giroud’s exit, as the Manchester United man’s pace could have troubled the otherwise imperious Pepe at the heart of Portugal’s defence.
Had Deschamps timed his substitutions better or thought more about the impact of bringing off the players he chose to withdraw, France could have won the game. However, the Frenchman’s inability to react to the surprise exit of Ronaldo in just the 25th minute set the tone for the evening.
Les Bleus have enjoyed a successful Euro 2016 campaign, despite their defeat to Portugal in the final, and Deschamps generally fared well as a coach.
With a few regular members of his starting XI who he was deprived of this summer expected back for 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, Deschamps should be able to guide his team as far—if not further—in Russia.
However, with the likes of Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho restored to the squad, Deschamps will have no excuse if he does not appear to know his strongest XI—as was the case for much of this tournament.
Deschamps’ pre-tournament plans were thrown into disarray by the late losses of Varane and Sakho, that is understandable, but it still should not have taken him until the 5-2 quarter-final win over Iceland to identify his preferred XI and formation.
The man from Bayonne must overcome his tactical indecision from Euro 2016 if he is to lead France to success in eastern Europe in 2018.