Euro 2016- An unlikely hero as Portugal finally deliver

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With only four weeks to go until this year’s delayed European Championship, focus is very much on the pan-European tournament that was due to take place last summer.

The previous tournament which is now five years old is far from the memories of the fans of countries that are set to take part. With that being said we’ll now take a trip down memory lane and look back on Portugal’s unexpected success in Paris.

With the tournament being expanded to 24 teams we saw some debutants such as Iceland and Albania. Hosts France, World champions Germany and the star-studded Belgians were among the favourites to lift the Henri Delauney trophy. Zara Larsson and David Guetta provided the soundtrack and the stage was set for an exciting month of football.

Group A

As is tradition the host nation got things underway as France took on Romania in the Stade de France. ‘Les Bleus’ got off to a winning start thanks to a stunning left-footed effort from Dmitri Payet that arrowed into the top corner. Olivier Giroud had given France the lead only for a Bogdan Stancu penalty to level things up for Romania.

Albania’s first ever match in a major tournament ended in a narrow 1-0 defeat to a steely, determined Switzerland side. Fabian Schar headed in the game’s only goal early on to ensure the Swiss joined the hosts on three points.

Didier Deschamps’ men sealed their place in the last 16 with a nervy 2-0 win over a brave Albanian team that was only settled by late goals from Antoine Griezmann and Payet.

A 1-1 draw between Switzerland and Romania put the Swiss in the driving seat for a place in the knockout stage with Admir Mehmedi scoring a fine equaliser.

History was made in Lyon in the final group game as Albania recorded their first ever major tournament win. Armando Sadiku was the hero in a 1-0 victory over Romania. It wasn’t enough to secure a place in the last 16 but it’s arguably the most famous goal in Albanian history.

France and Switzerland played out a scoreless draw to conclude the group.

Group B

Group B saw Wales make a return to a major finals for the first time since 1958 and they got off to the perfect start with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia. Gareth Bale’s free kick opened the scoring and Hal Robson-Kanu rolled in a winner either side of Ondrej Duda’s equaliser.

England got their campaign underway with a 1-1 draw against Russia. Eric Dier fired in a free kick to give Roy Hodgson’s men a deserved lead but they couldn’t hold on and Vasili Berezutski headed in a late leveller.

Slovakia bounced back from their opening defeat to put Russia aside with the aid of a wonderful strike from Marek Hamsik.

Meanwhile in Lens, it was a battle of Britain as England and Wales slugged it out. Bale scored once again from a free-kick but goals from Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge got the ‘Three Lions’ back on track.

Wales clinched top spot as they brushed aside a very poor Russian team 3-0 while England and Slovakia played out a dour scoreless draw to ensure both sides progressed to the next round.

Group C

Northern Ireland were also returning to the major stage after a long absence but began in disappointing fashion with a 1-0 defeat to Poland.

2014 World Cup winners Germany started out with a 2-0 win over Ukraine with Bastian Schweinsteiger clinching the win on the break.

While neighbours Poland and Germany drew 0-0 in Paris, Michael O’Neill’s men got a historic victory as Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn scored to see off Ukraine in Lyon.

Michael McGovern was in defiant form as Germany tried to break down the Northern Ireland defence before Mario Gomez eventually grabbed the winner as the world champions won the group. The ‘Green and White Army’ made it through as one of the best third placed teams.

Poland finished off with a 1-0 win over a poor Ukrainian side that will go down officially as the worst team in the tournament.

Group D

Group D began with a long range Luka Modric volley helping Croatia to a narrow 1-0 win over Turkey while Gerard Pique’s late header helped Spain to a frustrating win over the Czech Republic.

One of the more extraordinary games of the tournament occurred when Croatia and the Czechs met in Saint Etienne. Croatia were cruising to victory with a 2-0 lead before a protest from their own fans led to the match being halted for a spell. This derailed Ante Cacic’s men and the Czechs came back to secure a point. Spain eased past Turkey 3-0.

Croatia snatched top spot with a come from behind victory over Spain while Turkey’s 2-0 win against the Czech Republic wasn’t enough to clinch one of the best third placed berths.

Group E

Ireland got their campaign off to a positive start with a 1-1 draw against Sweden. Wes Hoolahan put Martin O’Neill’s side in front before Ciaran Clark’s own goal.

Belgium’s quest to win a first major trophy could barely have began in worse fashion as Italy saw off the ‘Red Devils’ 2-0.

The Italians secured their place in the knockout stages with a late 1-0 win over the Swedes through Eder while Belgium got back on track with a 3-0 against Ireland.

Ireland needed a win against an understrength Italy side to make the last 16 and got what was required with a famous winner from Robbie Brady. It secured Ireland’s first knockout match in 22 years. Belgium ended Sweden’s hopes with a 1-0 win.

Group F

Hungary got the better of rivals Austria to start Group F after a 2-0 win in Bordeaux. Meanwhile Iceland began their first ever major tournament with a fine 1-1 draw with Portugal.

The Portuguese had similar struggles in their second game with Cristiano Ronaldo missing a penalty. Iceland were denied a first victory after a late Birkir Mar Saevarsson own goal gave Hungary a share of the spoils.

Iceland weren’t to be denied a second time as Arnor Truastason scored an injury time winner to send the tiny nation through and send Austria packing. Portugal squeezed through in third place after a 3-3 thriller with Hungary secured a third consecutive draw.

Round of 16

Poland were the first side to book a quarter-final place with a penalty shootout win over Switzerland. The game was lit up by Xherdan Shaqiri’s bicycle kick which won the goal of the tournament award.

Wales took on another near neighbour in Northern Ireland and came out on top thanks to an unfortunate own goal from Gareth McAuley.

Portugal and Croatia fought an intense, attritional battle in Lens with Ricardo Quarsema scoring the winner in the last minute of extra-time.

The hosts France survived a scare after going in 1-0 down at half time to the Republic of Ireland before Antoine Griezmann netted twice in the second half to secure passage to the next round.

Germany and Belgium eased into the quarter-finals, defeating Slovakia and Hungary respectively.

Giorgio Chiellini and Pelle got the goals as Italy secured a mightily impressive win over Spain while the most dramatic of last 16 ties was to be the last.

Wayne Rooney scored an early penalty to give England the lead over minnows Iceland and things appeared to be smooth sailing. However, goals from Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbein Sigthorsson secured a shock 2-1 win and ensured one of the biggest upsets in European Championship history.

Quarter Finals

Poland were on the wrong end of a penalty shootout this time as Portugal progressed to the semi final after a 1-1 draw in the previous 120 minutes.

Wales met Belgium in the second quarter final and produced a memorable performance to send the hotly fancied Belgians home. Hal Robson-Kanu bamboozled the Belgian defence and scored the second in a 3-1 win with a goal that will go down in Welsh folklore.

There was another penalty shootout, this time in Bordeaux as Germany knocked out Italy. Simone Zaza famously fluffed his lines to allow Jonas Hector to send the Germans through.

Iceland’s brave run came to a crushing end against France as the former World and European champions ran out 5-2 winners.

Semi Finals

Portugal picked an opportune time to pick up their first victory in 90 minutes by beating Wales 2-0. Ronaldo scored a thumping header to make it 1-0 before Nani deflected in the second. It was a disappointing end to an unbelievable tournament for Wales.

Griezmann was at the double again as France ensured they would be in the showpiece final in Paris by getting the better of Germany in a noisy Marseille.


So to the final. France were at home and the clear favourites to win the tournament for the second time in 16 years. Portugal were taking part in a second final in four tournaments and were rocked during the game by losing the talismanic Ronaldo to injury.

Portugal needed a new hero and up stepped former Swansea striker Eder in extra time to score with a low shot from outside the area to give Portugal a first ever title.

Whilst they rarely played sparkling football, the Portuguese very much played as a team and Fernando Santos’ side will go down in history as the one that finally delivered some much coveted silverware.

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