The difference between success and failure sometimes comes down to a matter of a few small centimetres. France’s Andre-Pierre Gignac can vouch for that, having turned and shot against the Portuguese post in stoppage time in Sunday’s UEFA EURO 2016 final.
After brushing the inside of the woodwork, the ball bobbled across the face of the goal and away to safety, leaving Gignac to rue his misfortune. “It’s a nightmare,” the still-disbelieving striker told FIFA.com following Portugal’s crowning as European champions at the Stade de France.
“We dominated for 90 minutes and they killed us in extra time,” lamented the Tigres striker, still replaying the game in his mind. “It’s going to take us time to get over it. These holidays are not going to be the best.”
The statistics back up Gignac’s view of the game. The hosts had 18 attempts on goal to Portugal’s seven and also forced more corners and had more possession of the ball. Games are decided by goals, however, and it was Eder’s strike on 109 minutes that tipped the balance in Portugal’s favour.
For long periods of the match the only possible outcome seemed a France victory in front of their own fans. Antoine Griezmann went close with a brace of headers before Moussa Sissoko powered a thunderous 35-yard drive towards goal only for Portugal keeper Rui Patricio, who had an inspired night, to turn it away with a full-length dive. Then came the intervention of the woodwork, denying Gignac his moment of glory.
“We were very unlucky. We came so close, so so close,” added the 30-year-old front man, who breathed new life into the French attack after coming on for Olivier Giroud in the 78th minute. “I’m sad, very sad,” he added, before striking a defiant tone: “We need to look at the positives. We were strong and we did justice to our history. That’s what we can take from this.”
Hope for the future
Among those positives is the experience that a young France team picked up during the course of the tournament. Most of the Bleus squad is no older than 25, which is Griezmann’s age, while Paul Pogba is just 23 and Samuel Umtiti will only reach that milestone in November. The French have every reason to believe, then, that the future holds much promise for them.
“It’s all part of the game,” said one of the team’s more senior members, 29 year-old goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. “Despite the disappointment, it was a positive experience. We don’t feel great, but we have laid down a very good base, one we can definitely build on in the years to come.”
Despite fighting hard to keep his spirits up, the Tottenham keeper could not help but lament his side’s misfortune, albeit while recognising the sterling efforts of their opponents: “We have to congratulate Portugal. They didn’t play very attacking football, but they deserved it because they’ve been mentally strong throughout the tournament. All we can do now is focus on the things we’ve done well and look to the future.”
Proud but dejected, France are left to lament the bitterest of defeats, though judging by their reactions after the game, they will not take to lift themselves. The fine margins may have gone against them on Sunday, but Les Bleus have the talent and mindset to turn their fortunes around. After all, they need look no further than Portugal, who took just 12 years to recover from their Greek tragedy of 2004.