The Lothar Matthäus Euro 2016 column: Portugal showed they can win without Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo's teammates also were joyous, because they could show, for once, that they can get along without their star.
By Lothar Matthäus
Naturally the French, hosts of the Euro 2016, had the better chances in the final match. But Portugal winning the championship title was not undeserved, if you overlook the fact that they profited from the new tournament modus that enabled them to advance despite being only third in their group.
After all, in the Round of 16 they defeated one of my favourites, Croatia, 1-0 with a goal in overtime, just as they have now done against the French. They did so because in the course of the match they found their form, and physically they made the better impression.
It can be argued about why this final match was all about one player - Cristiano Ronaldo - even though he was no longer on the pitch after the 25th minute, injured by what was certainly a rude, but not a dirty foul by Dmitri Payet; the kind of foul that can happen in a final. Until the very end, the cameras constantly were on Ronaldo, how he was sitting on the bench, how he was crying in pain. And after his teammates had won the match, he was permitted - this is okay because he's the captain - to be the first to raise the trophy. Ronaldo had been the difference against Hungary and against Wales. His header against the Welsh will move many national team coaches to vote for him as world footballer of the year. But his teammates also were joyous, because they could show, for once, that they can get along without their star.
Strictly speaking, not a single one of the 24 teams was convincing in this tournament. This was not a tournament for football gourmets, one that saw many weary players. Certainly this was also due to the strains resulting from a long season with so many different competitions.
The Spaniards, who got off to a very good start, were already gone after the Round of 16. I would be hard-pressed to put together a team from this tournament. At the 1990 World Cup there were many Germans, in 1986 a number of Argentinians. In 2002, a few Brazilians. But this time, there would not be many French or Portuguese players in the team. The Portuguese won only one match in the regulation 90 minutes, the 2-0 semi-final against Wales.
It speaks for Portugal's morale the way they improved during the course of the tournament, something people normally say about the Germans. Even though the Germans lost 2-0 to France in the semi-final and even though they left behind the best impression with their football playing qualities.
If Bastian Schweinsteiger had not confused football with handball in the match against France - the way that Jerome Boateng also did in the quarterfinal against Italy - then Germany might have gone through as the only team that was not scored against. But in both cases, their handling of the ball in the zone led to penalties that were converted. Schweinsteiger deprived his team of the reward they deserved. If you absolutely want to take the field despite not having had much playing time, then you might be one step too slow, or do something that you normally don't do. And so Antoine Griezmann, with his second goal making it 2-0 for France, shot the only goal against Germany that was not a penalty.
Paul Pogba, the Frenchman playing for Juventus and who was expected to be the star of the tournament, is now going to Manchester United, where the new coach Jose Mourinho is now at the helm of things. The transfer fee is said to be €130 million - the money is there in England, thanks to the revenues from the television broadcasters. Pogba may only be just 23, but he is no Lionel Messi, no Ronaldo, and he barely made any impression in this tournament.
There were actually only two stars. One was Griezmann, not only because of his six goals for France but also because he was dangerous in the final. With his precision passes, Griezmann was, to me, the outstanding player of the tournament. And behind him, Gareth Bale, the Welshman playing for Real Madrid. These were the two faces of the Euro 2016.
But I was also surprised by the 28-year-old Eder, who came in after 78 minutes to replace the 18-year-old Renato Sanches and whose concealed low shot became the match-winner for Portugal. Eder is strong with the header and strong in dribbling, and fast. I would gladly like to have him in my team, even though he has been sold by Swansea City to Lille and who - before this goal - was worth only €5 million.
And so the Euro 2016 did, after all, reach a conciliatory conclusion.
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