UCFB and Chelsea coach Goncalo Menezes hails Portugal’s team spirit following historic Euro 2016 win
Even without the injured Ronaldo the nearly men of international football, Portugal, finally got their hands on a major prize after getting the better of France in a forgetful Euro 2016 final.
A solitary Eder goal with just ten minutes left of extra-time was the difference between the sides on a night when Ronaldo, who despite going off injured in the 25th minute, still stole all the headlines.
Many thought that the sight of the Real Madrid star leaving the pitch in tears would be the end of Portugal’s chances, but what followed won’t live long in the memory… unless you’re a Portugal fan.
Apart from France’s talisman Antoine Griezman missing a free header from six yards and substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac hitting the post in the final seconds of normal time, the French rarely threatened the Portuguese goal, partly thanks to some brilliant defending from Portugal. In return, Portugal hardly got near the French goal either. A free kick striking the bar in extra time was their only real sight of goal until Eder stepped up.
In truth, the final summed up the tournament – it won’t be remembered, and despite the odd flash of brilliance, it lacked any real quality.
Not that it bothered Portugal fan and UCFB Wembley student Goncalo Menezes. The BA (Hons) Sports Business & Coaching student, who’s also a UEFA B Licensed coach who trains the UCFB team and is a Foundation Coach at Chelsea, couldn’t hide his pride when describing his emotions on seeing his countrymen lift the trophy.
He said: “What made Portugal a strong side in this tournament was our manager’s ability to build a team with sacrifice spirit. Ronaldo’s back heel goal was as important as Rui Patricio’s saves; in every match all the players were important for the team.
“The final wasn’t a beautiful game to the public, but I always say that football is a game that is played with two teams and the team who scores more goals than the other, and no matter how, wins. Portugal did that.”
Describing the winning goal, Goncalo said: “It was a goal with the anger, passion, desire, strength, and belief of the entire Portuguese nation that exploded from the inside of Eder’s foot.”
UEFA have been criticised for the format of the tournament which this year featured 24 teams for the first time. It meant four of the six third placed teams qualified for the knockout rounds. Portugal finished third after drawing all three of their group games.
The bloated format though opened up the tournament to a host of nations and their colourful fans. Northern Ireland, Wales, Albania, Hungary and tournament darlings Iceland were the stories of the month, bringing their songs, friendship and good humour to France.
Iceland saw off a hapless England side in the last 16 and introduced Europe to their now famous Viking war chant. Northern Ireland, a country with less than 50 professional footballers, were only knocked out by an own goal in their last 16 tie against Wales, who themselves created their own small miracle by reaching the last four thanks to a brilliant 3-1 win over a star-studded Belgium, succumbing eventually to a Ronaldo-inspired Portugal.
Some will argue Portugal are a poor champion. After all, their famous victory saw them win only one of their seven games in France over 90 minutes. After drawing all their group games, they beat Croatia in extra-time in the last 16, Poland on penalties in the quarter final and won the final in extra-time.
But as in any sport, a team can only play who’s in front of them and by the rules provided. Portugal did, and now they’re European Champions for the first time.