The following article was written by the Portuguese journalist Germano Almeida.
Portugal scored its first European title, and sorry to tell you but we deserved it!
It was the triumph of collective resilience and the ability to realize what had to be done on the different moments of each game. Whoever plays all of the European Championship games without losing one game, and defeats the host country (the big favorite!) on the final match has to have great merit.
Ok... It wasn't the most exciting Portugal in terms of spectacle (in Euro-2000, 2004, in the World 2006 and the Euro-2012 we played much better in this issue), but we had a very organized team: pragmatic and able to beat any opponent.
Twelve years after Portugal organized the Euro-2004 (lost in the final to Greece), we made it for the second time to a final and we defeated France at home. Football, sometimes, has fantastic things, don't you think?
I hear people saying that Portugal did not deserve this title because we didn't practice good soccer (for a lack of a better word). In fact, some compare us to Greece-2004. Honestly, I find it an absurd, and here's why.
First, those who follow football know there's no comparison possible between the way we strategized our games in this Euro to Greece back in 2004.
Second, in the first two games, against Iceland and Austria, Portugal had more than 50 attempts to score a goal and over 60 percent of ball possession. Portugal dominated, attacked, and overall played a better soccer than our adversaries. I know. We still didn't win those two games, but that don't always happens in football.
But, it's clear to me that Portugal during the seven games to the European title in 2016, showed more talent and more quality than Greece in 2004.
I want you to set aside the similarities for a minute - little spectacle and too pragmatic, that coincidence of winning the final to the host country, etc. I want you to look at the fundamental differences. With all due respect to my fellow Greek colleagues, the Greece from 2004 never had the talent that we have. Greece-2004 didn't have Ronaldo, Nani, Renato Sanches, or Quaresma.
The 3-3 with Hungary was different. Cristiano Ronaldo finally appeared, he scored two goals and made a fantastic assistance to Nani that turned into a goal. But we also had our low moments in that game. The team had a few flaws and allowed three goals, but sure enough we solved our problems in the field.
The rules of the game state that the two best teams of each group and the best four teams place in 3rd can move to the eighth finals. Portugal made it to the knockout and because the first '3rd team' to become and European Champion. Portugal changed their strategy in the field.
The next challenge... Croatia. They were perhaps the best team that played in the group stage (defeated Spain with all the clarity), and Portugal had the merit to know how to minimize the menace of Modric and Perisic, who in previous games had been brilliant. With the irreverence of Renato Sanches, the genius of Ronaldo, the art of Nani and Quaresma's technique, Portugal eliminated Croatia during the extra time.
Poland was the next step. A very strong team, which had made great qualifying phase and in the group stage was very close to beat Germany. A goal from Lewandowski, at the second minute, seemed to be a bad sign, but Portugal started to control the game at minute 25 and believed that it was possible to make a turnaround. The 18y old Renato Sanches scored a great goal and draw 1-1. Portugal was very strong, both mentally and physically, and we ended up without missing a single shot.
We were in the semi-finals and many thought the next opponent would be Belgium. They have much more talent altogether and a great offensive capability, which explains how they defeated Hungary 4-0.
But, no. Surprise, surprise... we got Wales on our way. They had Bale's brightness and a very strong willed team that in the group stage won Russia and Slovakia, and made a great display against England, losing only in last minute. Before losing against Portugal, the Welsh team won Northern Ireland and Belgium (which was identified as a candidate for the 2016 title and crashed out against Wales, clearly, 3-1).
After so many draws, Portugal finally won a game in the first 90 minutes with two goals. The first one was a 'great leap forward' of Cristiano Ronaldo, who nearly stopped in the air to score with the head. Nani made the other and Portugal defeated Wales.
Was this an 'easy route' for Portugal? Really? No, it was not.
Let's look at what France did: they won in the last minute to Romania and Albania and tied with Switzerland; eliminated in eighths to Rep Ireland with many difficulties; eliminated Iceland and, yes, eliminated Germany in the semi-finals. Except for the semi-finals (Germany more difficult opponent than Wales), how can one say that Portugal had much easier path than France?
At last but not least, the big final against France. The host country was the favorite. They played at home, had better offensive solutions, more ways to change their game in the field. Adding to that, the premature injury of Cristiano Ronaldo seemed to increase the their favoritisme in the first minutes.
But none of that really matter to the Portuguese team who was determined to win the game. Ronaldo had to leave? Quaresma was in. Renato Sanches did not go well on the right wing? He switches to midfielder and thus hit more passes.
France had good opportunities to score a goal, but Portugal's golly, Rui Patricio, defended everything. They had 60% of ball possession in the first half hour, but by the end it was more 53-47.
Portugal's new strategy changed the game, and we started to control France, and had a tremendous spirit of sacrifice. If you were watching this game, I am sure you took your hat off to Portugal, and thought, what a gritty game. Yes, we were there to win.
The team was united, cohesive, and humble. Portugal embraced the challenge of defeating the French in Pairs. They never had tics of greatness, but also didn't suffer inferiority complexes. We had some fortune - remember when Gignac hit the post at minute 90?, but we knew we could be the winners. Portugal turn out to be a stronger team in the extra time, showing, one more time, a great resilience and faith.
This european title is the greatest achievement in the history of Portuguese football.
Two appearances in finals of Euro in a space of 12 years, four in the semi-finals in the last five editions (only Spain can also say that been in two finals since 2004, no one can say you've been in four semi-finals since 2000 ...) with the World-2006 semi-finals to add to the list. 'Lucky', 'easy way' or 'injustice' are simplistic explanations that do not fit in a long journey, with several hard tests and moments of 'all or nothing', which did not give it to fail.
The quality of Portugal's appearances fell short of what we are used to? Perhaps.
But for those who, like us, has almost always been in the last decade and a half, one of the National Teams that best soccer practice in major competitions, the time has come to give priority to efficiency and results. The merit belongs to Mister Fernando Santos who is known for being fearless and results-oriented. The Portuguese coach remains unbeaten in competitive games in the last two years as the National coach (and again, this cannot be by a mere chance). His team won 7 times to make it to this competition, even if by minimum margins.
Portugal was considered by critics the best national team in the Euro 2000, 2004, and 2012. This time, what the hell, it does not hurt that we didn't play the most beautiful football (yes, Belgium and Croatia in the group stage played well, and Germany, in its style, also had great quality games), but our level of effectiveness went up.
The Euro 2016 Final is the fourth presence of Portugal in the decisive game of a wide selections of competition in the last year and a half. Obviously, it's no coincidence or luck. This is the result of team work of everyone that was part of this process - players, coaches, officials, clubs, and institutions of the Portuguese Football. When I hear critics contesting this idea, while I respect others take, it starts to get difficult to understand.
Let's be clear: it was much better to be arrive to the final with a free way of possible meetings with Germany, England, Italy, France or Spain.But that doesn't give one the leeway to diminish the significance or even the legitimacy of the Portuguese title. That is simply ridiculous.
France started as a favorite on Sunday's final for a myriad of reasons: playing at home, one the best teams - specially from midfield to forward, better gunners.
And Portugal? We had an excellent defensive organization, dismissed the French when they tried to score goals, a very strong group in spirit (merit of the couch Fernando Santos who said since day one we were only coming home on the 11th), and of course Cristiano Ronaldo with a tremendous will to win.
I never doubted Portugal could win this game. And we did it. This is the first major international title for Portugal. Cristiano, this one is for you. Another FIFA Golden Ball on your way?
Portugal did it. And... oh, yes, we deserved it. Sorry.
Communications Director, Portuguese Professional Football League
Fmr Writer, A Bola & Mais Futebol, Portuguese domestic press.