The first major title for the Portuguese national team is being celebrated frenetically. Runners-up France found comfort in a moving video and only a few days after the final, all eyes are now on the next European Championship that will be held in 13 countries in 2020.
Whilst perhaps the planet’s best footballer was presented with the silver cup for the winner, the 15th European Championship ended with a surprise victor. Before the final, pundits did not really believe the Portuguese, led by their flamboyant captain Cristiano Ronaldo, would walk off with the title. They felt France’s powerful attacking line-up that included the Golden Boot winner and Player of the Tournament Antoine Griezmann – especially after the impressive 2-0 win in the semi-final against World Champions Germany - would be far too strong for the Iberians. In the end however, the jubilant team was the one that finished the group stage in third place – behind Iceland and Hungary – without a single win. The 1-0 victory after extra time in the final and the resulting European Championship title for Portugal was described by Ronaldo afterwards as, “One of the happiest moments of my life.”
The final in front of a 75,868 crowd in Saint Denis was a true reflection of the tournament. Seldom was the match of any real class but it was always hard-fought and highly tentative. That the outsider eventually triumphed with a goal scored by substitute Éder and in doing was able to end a bad run of fortune in semi-final and finals, was in keeping with the previous events at the championship. In the quarterfinals, Germany overcame its fear of Italy at major tournaments, in the semi-final France ended its Germany trauma and in the final, Portugal conquered its final trauma. In 2004, there was a 1-0 defeat in the European Championship final on home soil against Greece – a painful disaster whose scars have now been healed by magical night in Paris on 10 July 2016. For superstar Ronaldo, who, 19 at the time, played in the match against Greece, it was a huge relief. “I’ve been praying since 2004 that I’d get another chance,” said Ronaldo who in the final 12 years later, with tears flowing down his cheeks, had to be substituted in the 25th minute after suffering a knee injury. “Luckily enough, things went our way in the end,” he said afterwards, “It’s an unforgettable moment.”
The first major title is late reward for one of the most successful Portuguese generations ever: in the past five European Championships, Portugal has reached the semi-finals four times and additionally came fourth at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Back home, the eulogies were quickly penned: “10 July will become a public holiday in Portugal,” wrote “Correio da Manha”. And a jubilant “Expresso” expressed the feelings of all the country’s 11 million inhabitants: “The title is for the rest of our lives”.
Though the match plunged the French players and fans into a valley of tears that, in contrast to Ronaldo’s case, did not turn into tears of joy, in the time of the painful defeat one emotional moment has alleviated some of the hurt and provided some comfort for many Frenchmen and women: a video of a small Portuguese child consoling an adult French fan has moved millions in internet. In the end, it was a sign of the respect towards fellow mankind that made one forget the ugly scenes involving English and Russian hooligans that had hit the country hard at the at the start of the tournament.
Not only due to the behaviour of their fans, the two nations were the tournament’s two biggest losers. Football-wise, the English, who were heaped with derision and mockery when returning home after the 2-1 defeat in the round of the last 16 against Iceland, and the ´pointless Russians both disappointed.
Turkey, Sweden and Austria also disappointed but quarterfinalist Iceland and semi-finalist Wales conquered the hearts of Europe’s football fans and were celebrated back home by tens of thousands of supporters.
The big favourites departed one by one and, in the main, quietly from the tournament. Tired Spaniards were eliminated in the last 16 after losing 2-0 to Italy. The “Gli Azurri” then had to bow out in the next round after an epic penalty shoot-out against Germany who were duly defeated a round later 2-0 by the French. Though they missed on winning the title, the German team did not come in for a great deal of criticism from home fans and press.
In the other half of the tournament draw, highly-rated Croatia came unstuck after extra time in their last 16 match against Portugal (1-0), title contenders Belgium exited after a weak quarterfinal performance when losing 3-1 against Wales.
After 51 games in which 108 goals were scored and were watched by 2,427,303 spectators in the stadiums, UEFA was well-pleased with the way the tournament had gone: revenue to the tune of 1.93 billion euro was offset by costs totalling 1.1 billion euro to give an 830 million euro profit which is 34 per cent up on EURO 2012 profit. The money will flow into the coffers of the 55 UEFA associations. “We’re highly satisfied,” said UEFA Tournament Director Martin Kallen, who continued, “As far as the organisation goes, we had no problems at all – and that goes for security too.”
Even so, UEFA Vice President Ángel María Villar Llona declared in Paris that the federation would “give thought” to the criticism directed at the decision to enlarge the tournament from 16 to 24 teams. The 15th edition will not be remembered for the excellence of the football played and many pundits were disappointed with the general standard of the tournament. There is however no question of EURO 2020 being played with fewer teams.
The European Championship in four years will additionally be played in 13 countries for the first time. Between Ireland’s capital Dublin in the west of the continent and the Azerbaijani capital Baku in the east lie 5,300 kilometres for the fans to cover. When allocating the matches in 2014, the two semi-finals and the final were awarded to England where they will be played in Wembley Stadium in London.
As there is no one European Championship host, all 13 “hosts” have to qualify on the pitch. Nevertheless the following venues can look forward to the tournament: London, Munich, Baku, Glasgow, Dublin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Budapest, Rome, Bilbao, Amsterdam, Bucharest and Saint Petersburg.