A Selecao’s character was tested on a dramatic night in Paris, but they passed with flying colours…

Ahead of the Euro 2016 Final Khel Now reflected on Portugal’s defeat in the finale in 2004 and the mark it had left on the nation as well as on their captain and best player Cristiano Ronaldo. We spoke of how this was an opportunity for redemption for both individual and country. A chance to heel deep, festering wounds that had endured for over a decade. Add to this backdrop the challenge of facing the hosts baying to lift the trophy on home turf and losing your talisman to an unfortunate injury after just 25 minutes. For most these would be insurmountable odds. But, they were the trying circumstances under which this young Portugal side scripted the greatest moment in their nation’s football history.

Indeed, as it turned out Ronaldo’s departure in fact seemed to liberate his teammates from the pressure of the occasion. It was almost as if they were playing with a man down. Often, when teams are a man light they pull rank. This is exactly what A Selecao did and how. It is a testament to their character as individuals and as a team, that although, understandably shocked by their skipper’s departure they never allowed their shoulders to drop for a moment, entirely focussed on the task at hand.

Eder was the unlike hero on the night with a sensational strike.

Eder’s winner when it came in the second half of extra-time was a beauty in itself. For a player born in lowly Guinea Bissau having experienced the most under-privileged of upbringings, it was a moment that could not have happened to a better person.

While France made all the running for most of the game, for their opponents this was a display made up of the same characteristics that got them this far, organization, discipline, dogged determination and the will to survive, to win. The substitute forward will make all the headlines and rightly so. But, there were heroes in red shirts across the pitch. Centre-Back Pepe who had only just made it from a thigh problem brought all his experience into play and was an immense pillar of strength at the back. Full-back Raphael Guerreiro faced a mismatch in the powerful Moussa Sissoko, but the youngster stuck to his task diligently and gave as good as he got. The impressive pairing of William Carvalho and Joao Mario were bulwarks in midfield cutting out every French attack at source, while instigating counters for their own team. Former Manchester United forward Nani, who himself had a great tournament, seemed to thrive even more under the responsibility when he had the armband passed on to him following Ronaldo’s exit.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal captain: “This is one of the happiest moments in my career. I’ve always said I wanted to win a trophy with the national team and make history.”(Image Courtesy: UEFA Euro)

Credit must also go to Fernando Santos for the remarkable job he has done with this group of players. Following Greece’s debacle at Brazil 2014, his own career lay in tatters. The experienced tactician must be commended for showing the courage to lead the national team in what were testing times for both him and the country. It was he who saw opportunity in what was disarray. Nearly 22 months on, his faith in his players and in his philosophy has been vindicated. On the night too, Santos was remarkably calm in reacting to a circumstance, for which he is unlikely to have planned. Ricardo Quaresma, who replaced Ronaldo and who had only come on as an impact substitute at the back end of games so far, acclimatised well to his extended role. Also, the withdrawal of Renato Sanches for Eder, whilst it may have been unpopular with some, worked to perfection. With tired legs at the back, the lanky forward added a different dimension to Portugal by providing some much-needed breathing space with his clever hold up play and also presented a more direct threat at goal.

Skipper Ronaldo must also be complimented for raising himself from the disappointment of his own injury to motivate his players and help them get over the line. The Real Madrid superstar, though barely able to walk himself, was a bundle of energy and encouragement, as he franticly strode up and down the technical area egging on his teammates to hold out in the last few minutes. In fact, it seems, Ronaldo’s words had such an impact on his side’s morale, that some are even calling the cameo his audition for a future career in management. It is an appetizing prospect.

This tournament, also represented in a sense, the changing of the guard for A Selecao. Questions were raised as to whether there was enough in the cupboard to carry the torch for what is a proud football nation? Whether the youngsters of today could rise out of the shadow of their talismanic skipper? Starlets like Guerreiro, Carvalho, Mario and Sanches have answered those questions resoundingly in the affirmative. They have shown that to go with their exceptional football talents, they also possess the character to overcome challenges. It is an attribute that will stand them and their country in good stead in the future. Regardless, this group have forever, edged their names in Portuguese football folklore and in doing so they have provided signs that last night was just the start of bigger and better things to come.

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Post Match Report and Comment by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.