The Year of the Underdog Continues at Euro 2016

Yet again, 2016 has witnessed an upset in a major sporting event. The 73-9 Warriors fell to the Cavs. Leceister City won the Premier League. Novak Djokovic was eliminated in the early rounds of Wimbledon, ending his 30 game win streak in Majors. Argentina fell to Chile (though cynics will claim this was to be expected considering Argentina is 0 for 6 in major finals since 2000). Now France, the host of the Euro Cup, has been defeated by Portugal.

The game, much like the majority of the tournament, was slow and disappointing throughout. Cristiano Ronaldo was injured early on, and was crying while taken off the field by a stretcher in the 25th minute. France pushed hard in the opening minutes in an effort resembling the semi-final versus Germany, but wound up slowing down the pace thereafter and were content with maintaining possession around Portugal’s box. Portugal played as they had all tournament, offering very little offensively and wearing down the opposition by keeping possession in their own half. Griezmann and Gignac had two excellent chances, the former was headed right over the open goal and the latter clattered against the post and out; for Portugal, Quaresma nearly drilled a bicycle kick past Lloris. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I doubt either team’s fan base was particularly content with the play during regulation.

In extra-time, the players picked up right where they left off, though mental errors and physical exhaustion were much more prevalent for both sides. In the 107th minute, the game took a drastic turn when Koscielny was wrongly carded for a hand ball. The Portuguese nearly capitalized on the free-kick from 25 or so yards out, hitting the crossbar, and nearly giving the French a heart-attack. Just two minutes later Eder drilled a 25 yard shot low to Lloris right, and the rest – as they say – is history. You can see the goal here, for reference.

As we’ve seen many times before and we will see many times to come, the better team lost today. France dominated possession for large parts of the game, but were unable to breach Portugal’s bunkered down defense; the few clear cut chances they got were either wasted or saved by Rui Patricio. Portugal, for their part, played an ugly but tactically sound game of soccer and were ultimately able to convert one of their 3 shots on goal. Though the game certainly won’t be celebrated by critics and fans alike, it emphasizes a mental shift by (usually weaker) teams to a defensive brand of soccer – the sort that helped propel Chelsea to the Premier League title last year.

In retrospect, Koscielny should’ve have taken Eder down before he had the chance to shoot; he certainly would’ve received a second yellow card, but a 10 men France likely could have let the game ease into penalty kicks. His decision making, though instantaneous, was clouded by the prior call wherein referee Mark Clattenburg erroneously gave the French defender a yellow card. Upon replay, it’s clear that the ball went off of Eder’s hand and this unfortunate (but understandable) miscall wound up costing France a goal. Perhaps a review system in soccer would have led to a different outcome, but that’s a topic for another day. In any case, it’s hard to win when you don’t score a goal.

 

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