France were weighed down by burden of expectation after Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo limped out of Euro 2016 final
- Portugal beat France 1-0 in extra-time to win the European Championship
- Cristiano Ronaldo was forced off in the first-half with a knee injury
- Portugal substitute Eder scored he winner with a rare goal in extra-time
- Les Bleus struggled to cope with psychological burden of expectation
I watched the final between France and Portugal with my Stoke City team-mates in our hotel in Austria and we all watched on in shock when Cristiano Ronaldo went down injured.
Most people would have expected the French to win after that but the hosts seemed to lose their way. You would have expected Portugal to doubt themselves in that situation but it was as though their players grew a couple more inches without their captain.
France had started well but they became disorientated when Ronaldo went off. That can happen when the opposition loses their best player.
Cristiano Ronaldo's Euro 2016 final was cut short after he suffered a knee injury in the first half
Portugal's captain tried to continue but was left in tears as he was taken off the field on a stretcher
Ronaldo finished the evening on a high as Portugal stunned France with an extra-time winner
It is possible that the French subconsciously relaxed and complacency creeped into their game. It may also be that the coaching staff spent a long time briefing the French players on how to face Ronaldo and they would not have foreseen a situation where they face a Portugal team without their biggest threat.
Portugal retreated even more and the onus and pressure on the French to break them down grew. The French might have been wondering how the people would react the day after and anxiety can increase.
I remember from my time at Barcelona that there are times when you are favourites in big games that it can become a psychological burden. When everyone is expecting you to win and when you are playing at home as France were, it can become destabilising, particularly when you do not score an early goal and calm the nerves.
France's players were unable to cope with the weight of expectation after Ronaldo left the field
Pepe (left) and William Carvalho (second left) excelled as Portugal kept France at bay on Sunday
Consequently, France were not near their best, too many of their stars didn’t demonstrate their best form and Portugal played at a greater intensity. As the game progressed, you could see France becoming more worried and the seeds of doubts were emerging. Portugal, by contrast, grew in stature, limited France to only one or two big chances and seized the day.
Pepe was a titan in defence. He headed everything, blocked every shot and I think he gained a huge amount of respect in this tournament. William Carvalho was also outstanding in midfield. He was one of their key players, providing balance by shielding the defence, anticipating danger and also using the ball really well. The Sporting Lisbon midfielder would be well suited to the Premier League.
During the knock-out rounds of this tournament, I have been wondering what UEFA could do to make extra-time more exciting. There have been some games that have dragged on and it’s felt like teams were waiting for penalties at times. I don’ t think we should abandon extra-time and skip to penalties.
Eder (second right) became the unlikely hero after netting a rare extra-time winner at the Stade de France
The Portugal substitute is mobbed by team-mates as Portugal pulled off a shock victory over the hosts
I always prefer to have a hero like Eder who does something wonderful and unexpected in normal play than a villain who misses a penalty. Extra-time is a good physical test for players and also psychologically it poses important questions to coaches over their game management and how they use their three substitutes to make the team fresh in extra-time.
I would support a reduction in the length to 20 minutes of extra-time - I think it would give us more intense ten-minute halves in which teams go for the jugular rather than the slow and fearful exchanges we have seen in France.
This hasn’t been a thrilling tournament all the way through but as a football lover, I have enjoyed the moments that Wales and Iceland gave us over the past month.
Hal Robson-Kanu's 'Cruyff Turn' goal was one of several unexpected but thrilling moments
Part of the beauty of these summer tournaments is discovering more about the lesser-known nations and also players you may not have recognised before. We will never forget Hal Robson-Kanu’s piece of skill against Belgium or the night Iceland defeated England.
I have also enjoyed seeing the renaissance of certain players such as the Portuguese duo Nani and Ricardo Quaresma, who have reminded everyone of their natural talent.
My country Spain will of course be gutted to have exited the competition so early.
I’d say the key moment of the tournament was that couple of days where Portugal saw off Croatia and Spain lost to Italy. It showed that counter-attacking football would win over at this tournament over the possession-based style we have seen thrive in recent times.
Defending champions Spain found to their cost that counter attacking football could overcome tiki-taka
I grew up in the La Masia academy and I will always favour a way of playing that encourages teams to have the ball, dominate and nurture expressive players.
However, it is clear there is a challenge from the likes of Leicester, Atletico Madrid, Portugal and Italy in this respect and those teams who are loyal to tiki-taka football now need to discover new ways of unlocking the door and breaking these teams down earlier on in games.
Once you knock down the door, they have to come out and play.
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