Portugal win Euro Cup despite Ronaldo heartbreak
SO the one-man team become European champions, defeating the host nation without the one man they apparently could not win without.
Portugal, for the first time, claimed a major title by defeating France in Paris, silencing the Stade de France with Eder's extra-time goal in a game that had been memorable only for Cristiano Ronaldo's tears after being stretchered off midway through the first-half.
Ronaldo ended the game, left knee heavily strapped, prowling the technical area as though he were the Portugal coach, this victory meaning so much to the former Manchester United forward.
And twelve years after suffering defeat as a host nation to Greece at Euro 2004, Portugal and Ronaldo claimed redemption as France froze on the biggest stage in front of their own supporters.
So the Henri Delaunay Trophy remains in Iberia, with Portugal succeeding back-to-back winners Spain toclaim their crown.
Having spent so much effort in the searing heat of Marseille to overcome Germany in the semi-final on Thursday evening, France needed the backing of a raucous crowd inside the Stade de France to inject energy in Deschamps' players.
The France coach had justifiably complained about his team's schedule ahead of this game, insisting that just two full days of recovery was insufficient for game of this magnitude, but if the victory against the Germans sapped French physical strength, it certainly energised the nation.
But could the feelgood factor carry Les Bleus over the line against a resilient Portugal team that, for all its inability to put opponents away, had reached this final without losing a game?
As well as physical and mental fatigue, France also had to shrug off the pressure of emulating the teams of 1984 and 1998, which won the European Championships and World Cup respectively on home soil in Paris.
So who would achieve their destiny? Would France claim a unique hat-trick of home victories or would Ronaldo inspire Portugal to their first major title?
Well the game was only eight minutes old before it became clear that Ronaldo would not be single-handedly carrying Portugal to victory.
Having received the ball on the halfway line, Ronaldo was flattened by a clumsy, and reckless, challenge by Payet which went unpunished by referee Mark Clattenburg.
The Portugal captain was clearly in discomfort, rolling on the turf while clutching his left knee, which had taken the full force of the impact.
The French crowd booed and whistled, treating Ronaldo like the pantomime villain he has become in the eyes of opponents, but the Real Madrid forward was not milking the moment.
Treatment followed, but Ronaldo could only limp and shuffle around the pitch before going down in tears ten minutes later. Strapping was applied to his left leg, but it was a futile attempt to keep the 31-year-old on the pitch.
On 24 minutes, Ronaldo signalled to the bench that his game was up. More tears flowed as he was stretchered off, this time to applause from the whole stadium.
No true sporting fan will have relished his exit from the action, but for the second major final at the Stade de France, it ended badly for a Ronaldo - with Cristiano suffering the same miserable fate as his Brazilian namesake in 1998.
Prior to Ronaldo's departure from the game, Portugal had struggled to contain the hosts, so their challenge now became even more difficult without their talisman.
With the exception of a Nani volley, from Cedric's pinpoint pass on four minutes, Portugal barely threatened Hugo Lloris in the France goal, but Deschamps' team could not find the breakthrough which would have put them in control.
Moussa Sissoko was France's biggest attacking threat in the first-half, with the Newcastle midfielder shooting goalwards on three occasions.
Antoine Griezmann also sent an effort flashing into the side-netting, but Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio was proving to be in fine form, producing a stunning fingertip save to push a Griezmann header over the crossbar before saving well from Olivier Giroud
With Ronaldo gone, Portugal turned to his replacement, Ricardo Quaresma, and Nani to test the French, but chances were thin on the ground.
And the only mark left on France by Portugal in the first-half was a heavy one, with Cedric booked for leaving his knee in the back of Payet - a retaliation strike for Ronaldo, perhaps.
Portugal, without their talisman and inspiration, were there for the taking, but France appeared cowed by the prospect of going on the front foot.
Their lack of pace up-front played into Portugal's hands, with Pepe marshalling the defence superbly alongside Jose Fonte, but Deschamps did not gamble on a change until he 57th minute, when he replaced Payet with the pacy Kingsley Coman.
The ineffective Giroud remained, however, and the Arsenal forward continued to find Pepe an unbreachable barrier.
France were crying out for creativity and guile from midfield, but Paul Pogba was quiet and Blaise Matuidi too busy keeping close to the Portugal teenager Renato Sanches.
But with Portugal happy to sit back and soak up pressure, displaying little invention or ambition of their own, this final was drifting into the territory of two teams preparing to take it to penalties.
Had Griezmann headed home from Coman's cross on 65 minutes, the game, and France, would have been transformed, but in keeping with the match - and the tournament as a whole - the Atletico Madrid forward headed over from six yards.
Coman's introduction made a difference, with the Bayern Munich winger teeing up Giroud, whose left foot shot was saved by Patricio.
Hugo Lloris was then force into his first save of the game on 80 minutes when he kept out Quaresma's scissor kick, but the game was destined for extra-time once Gignac's effort hit the post and rolled away from danger.
France continued to struggle in extra-time, though, and it was the Portuguese who showed the greater desire to win the game before penalties/
Raphael Guerreiro's free-kick, after Clattenburg mistakenly punished Laurent Koscielny for an Eder handball, rattled Lloris crossbar on 107 minutes, but the killer blow was landed two minutes later.
Eder, having outmuscled Koscielny, was given space to shoot by Samuel Umtiti and he did not waste out.
Twenty yards out, the former Swansea forward beat Lloris with a low right-foot shot into the bottom corner.
France's dream had been extinguished, but Ronaldo's and Portugal's had just become a reality.