In a team always accused of lacking a supporting cast for Ronaldo, it was poignant that the same supporting cast sealed the deal in Paris. Almighty Pepe, the real MVP. The “washed up” duo of Nani and Quaresma. The “imports” Adrien, Cédric and Raphael and the white gloved hero Éder, there are a lot of unsung heroes to choose from.
This final edition of “The Portuguese Unsung Heroes” is dedicated to those who impressed most in the final. The ones that, when the “now or never” stage of the competition arrived, answered the call. They are Rui Patrício, the Portuguese goalkeeper, that kept Griezmann, Giroud and Co. frustrated, and Éder, the unlikeliest of the unlikely heroes.
4 – Rui Patrício
The Sporting Lisbon goalkeeper did not need the heroic game he had in the final to be considered one of Portugal’s best players. He had already had a fantastic tournament, he was not at fault for any of the goals conceded, and confirmed Portugal’s place in the semi-finals with a great save from Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski in the penalty shoot out. He had done his job brilliantly.
But in the decisive game he went a step further. A step higher. A step wider. He was huge, saving every shot on goal, some of them pretty difficult saves, like the Griezmann header in the first half and Sissoko’s shot from outsider the box. He kept Portugal in the game when they were still reeling from Ronaldo’s departure and the rest of the side was gathering strength. Patrício did not allow Ronaldo’s injury to affect him, and that was key.
Rui Patrício is a goalkeeper with tremendous technical abilities. He has the height, the reflexes and the jumping ability to be one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. What happens between his ears is what from time to time is the issue. The mental ability of a goalkeeper is as important as his physical ability and, in the past, Rui Patrício has had instances in which he loses his focus and makes mistakes that a goalkeeper of his calibre should not.
This is of course a condition that is age related, and Patricio has improved his concentration in the past couple of years. At 28 he may now have turned the corner, and established himself as a reliable goalkeeper, which the defence can really trust. It will be interesting to see if that is the case.
5 – Éder
Sometimes football has this way of putting everybody in its place. That’s what happened with Éder and his doubters. And they came from everywhere, starting in his own country where the news of him being called up to the 23 was met with near outrage. “He can’t kick a ball!”, “Why always the same guy who never scores?” were some of the nicest things that were said about him.
And it is not like these reactions were particularly unfair. This is a guy that scored 6 goals or less in eight of his previous eleven campaigns. He’s tall, he’s somewhat fast, strong and sometimes shoots well. But that’s it. As his career has progressed, his goal tally has gradually decreased (excluding his spell at Lille).
Having said that, Éder perhaps deserves more credit than anyone. He did not let all the talk affect him, and as soon as he had his chance in that final game he grabbed it with both hands. He truly changed the game. With his presence and his ability to fight for the ball and hold it up, the team grew in confidence and started to believe victory was possible.
And then it happened. With the team now playing 30 or 40 metres further up the pitch (because of his work), the ball came to him, he fought off Laurent Koscielny, found some and proceeded to execute the most awkward (the ball is behind his left leg when he’s preparing to shoot) and the most important shot in the history of Portuguese football.
It is almost prophetical that his trademark celebration is to wear a white glove, because this was the most appropriate occasion of them all to use it. There were a lot of people deserving of his white gloved slap after that goal and I have no problem admitting I was one of them. Sorry for doubting you Éder.