I guess most of the pundits and myself did not foresee a Portugal Vs France Euro 2016 final match…neither did we expect Portugal to beat a determined star-studded team like France.
How the mighty and favorites fell along the way and at the final match is no longer news but history. Before the competition began in June…Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England and possibly France were considered to be favorites to lift Europe’s most coveted continental trophy.
Alas, I would say all my predictions were wrong because I continually foresaw Germany in the final (poor foresight I guess) and maybe another European super-weight like Spain or Italy fighting for the title in the final match (England never ever crossed my busy mind).
As the competition progressed into the knockout stages and we knew who came to fill numbers like the English team, I still stuck to my prediction of seeing Germany in the final and even claimed Portugal might qualify for the final and not win. But suddenly, the elements changed – the Euro 2016 final featured two teams that had beaten all odds to get there.
France has always been my one of my best European national teams because my favorite soccer player ever is a Frenchman (The great Thierry Henry), while many greats like Zidane, Cantona, Makele, Papin,Thuram, Desailly, Viera, Platini, Pires, Anelka, Deschamps e.t.c have emanated from there. But in recent years France has been just another soccer-loving European nation in terms of rankings and abilities. However, I knew France had not lost it yet like Argentina but I just never expected its resurrection to come in this Euros.
Portugal on the other hand, has always had a superstar or two that are always recognized as world best or close to in whatever part of the soccer field they happen to play. For example, Eusebio, Fernando Gomes, Carvalho, Quaresma, Luis Figo, Deco, Pauleta, Rui Costa, Ronaldo e.t.c. The Portuguese team is always relevant in any competition they feature in but like myself, most soccer pundits never expected Portugal would play in the final match though the team had the world’s current best player; Christiano Ronaldo.
The France Vs Portugal final portrayed what the world has been discussing in the past few days; teamplay + hunger VS Individuality + home support. Portugal played as a unit with no weak links because they all had the same hunger and determination, while France played as a body of stars with weak links like Giroud even though they all shared the same desire to win the Euros too.
It all boils down to one simple thing which is ‘Form’ VS ‘Class’.
France have had a considerable history of European and global soccer success and have been able to achieve that success based on the strengths of their team and also their forms at different times. For example, when France won the France 98 World Cup, their form then was unstoppable and they were never able to achieve that feat before then or since after then because they closest they got to be World Champions again was when Italy beat them at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Domestically, France’s form at the European stage has been an ‘on and off’ affair. They won it in 1988 and narrowly beat Netherlands with penalties to qualify for the finals where they beat Italy in the Euro 2000 final to clinch the cup for the second time. The only time France was consistent as a team was between 1998 – 2000, before then and after then, its been an irregular train ride for France…all based on their form at different times.
History maker: Eder celebrates Portugal’s winning goal. Source: Getty Images
On the other hand, Portugal have been consistent in their determination to win a first national honor for their soccer-loving country since 1966 and 1984 when they qualified for their first World Cup and Euro Cup appearances respectively. One needs to remember that Portugal has never been a team full of stars but a team of one or two global stars, while the rest players were effective but not popular players. Their World Cup campaign has not been too bad though the best they ever achieved was third place at their first appearance in 1966 and followed by a fourth place finish in 2006. Their first appearance at the Euros in 1984 ended with a third place finish just like their World Cup debut in 1966. But since 1996, the Portuguese national team have been super-consistent in domestic and global soccer scenes (especially in Europe), hence their eventual European win should not be seen as a surprise. The table below shows their performance in UEFA European competition, while special focus should be placed on their performance since 1996.
The path to glory is never easy – Portugal never gave up! Source: Wikipedia
Maybe its a coincidence that their consistence in trying to win a major trophy for their nation increased in the past 10 years since Christiano Ronaldo has been an active member of the national team and now the current captain. Since 2003 when he joined the national team as an 18 year old boy, their best performance ever was at the 2004 Euros which was hosted by Portugal itself. Unfortunately, Ronaldo and Portugal fell to Greece, which shocked them and the world but have since then continued their quest for the title with so much vigour. Since 2004 till July 11, Christiano Ronaldo has been ‘tested and trusted’ in the game of soccer, he has won all the domestic and European league titles available on his path, while acquiring a crazy number of individual awards for his chart-shattering goals, his hardwork as an individual/ invaluable team-player and also for his consistency on the pitch.
Ronaldo’s counterpart at Barcelona (also a national team captain) who has also cleared all Barcelona’s domestic and European league titles available on his path, while acquiring a crazy number of individual awards for his chart-topping goals, his hardwork as an invaluable team-player and also for his consistency. Unlike Ronaldo, he has not been able to replicate his superb form at the national level which is always jam-packed with quality players like himself and this has always questioned his uniqueness since he has been tested and trusted in only one club and soccer league in the world. Being mobile and replicating that form wherever you go is a good way to prove your class. And even if one chooses to be stationary based on the superhuman abilities and form the environment provides one, one must still prove his class by replicating that ‘club-known’ form with his fellow countrymen like Okocha, Eto’o, Drogba, George Weah, Ibrahimovic, Gareth Bale have done with their average national teams.
It now goes without saying that Christiano Ronaldo @31 years of age is now a definition of class in the soccer world, while Messi @ 29 years of age still remains a man of form @ Barcelona. The same way Portugal has shown class by fighting to win what they have determined over the years, while France has lost again due to their belief in their current form.
Form is temporary…class is permanent. Ask Jose Mourinho.. ask Christiano Ronaldo… ask Portugal!
****My sincere condolences to France as they recover from recent disturbing terrorist attacks.