Much-malignedPortugal centre-half Pepe insists Cristiano Ronaldo remained the inspiration behind his side’s shock Euro 2016 final victory over hosts France despite injury forcing the forward’s first-half withdrawal at the Stade de France.
In a match seemingly destined for penalties, Portugal sealed their first major trophy in extra-time courtesy of a goal from substitute striker and Swansea City flop Eder, who ironically now plays his club football in France with Lille.
Portugal were crowned champions after finishing third in their group and only winning one match in 90 minutes during the tournament, although it eased the heartache of losing the 2004 final to Greece on home soil.
“It was tough to lose our main man,” said Pepe. “The man who could at any moment score a goal. He could make the difference but we were warriors on the pitch. We said we would win it for him and we managed to do that.
“We had to work very hard and be more humble than the other team, that’s the only way to win. We left it all out there. We wrote a brilliant page in the book of Portuguese footballing history.”
France had recorded 10 successive wins against Portugal although it was Fernando Santos’s side which had an early sight of goal as Nani controlled a punt upfield, only to blaze a shot high over the crossbar.
Golden Boot winner Antoine Griezmann had a forgettable evening but saw a header superbly tipped over by Rui Patricio before Portugal were rocked by an injury to three-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal had played the most games in the history of the European Championship, 34, without winning the tournament, and their task was made harder when a tearful Ronaldo was forced off after just 25 minutes with a knee injury following an earlier tackle from Dimitri Payet.
The loss of their talisman appeared to galvanise Portugal, although it was Grizemann who fluffed his lines and failed to convert a gilt-edged header shortly after the hour mark, while Patricio also denied Olivier Giroud and Moussa Sissoko.
Substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac was inches from striking a hammer blow in stoppage time as his scuffed effort rebounded off the post, while Portugal’s Raphael Guerreiro struck the French woodwork in extra-time.
Portugal’s winner came in the 109th minute as Eder, who had replaced Renato Sanches, notched his first competitive goal for his country after rolling centre-half Laurent Koscielny and firing a low 25-yard shot beyond Hugo Lloris.