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Three things we learned from Portugal’s win vs. France in EURO 2016 final

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Portugal and France played out 120 minutes of sheer tension in the EURO 2016 final in Paris on Sunday.

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In the 109th minute the game-winner arrived through Eder, a substitute who plays his club soccer in France as his lone goal beat France. The hosts were stunned as Portugal won its first-ever major title.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s early injury stole the headlines as he was carried off in the first half and the other major storyline was the moth problem in Saint-Denis, as millions seemed to descend from the hot, steamy Parisien sky.

[ MORE: Portugal stun France, win EURO 2016 ]

The final played out in a tense atmosphere inside the Stade de France but it was Portugal who celebrated long into the night.

Here’s three things we learned from Paris.


INJURED RONALDO JOINS THE IMMORTALS

Diego Maradona led Argentina to glory. Pele led Brazil to glory. Now, Ronaldo has done the same with Portugal without playing past the 25th minute in the final.

In the ninth minute Dimitri Payet thundered into a block tackle with Ronaldo which saw his right thigh slam into Ronaldo’s left knee. Portugal’s captain went down in agony, holding his leg and then receiving treatment twice, having his knee bandaged on the second occasion.

[ VIDEO: Ronaldo injured early on ]

Then, in the 25th minute, Ronaldo knew it was over. He signaled to the bench and crumpled in a heap on the grass at the Stade de France as a moth fluttered on his face. In tears, he sobbed as he took the captains armband off and gave it to Nani. Ronaldo was inconsolable and the man who had led Portuguese soccer for over a decade was distraught at missing their finest moment.

Payet will receive plenty of ire from Portuguese fans and soccer purists around the world who wanted to see Ronaldo led Portugal to glory and although it wasn’t a high tackle or a particularly dangerous one, Payet knew what he was doing.

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Portugal is challenged by Patrice Evra (L) of France during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

As a 19-year-old Ronaldo lost in the final of EURO 2004 on home soil as Portugal’s golden generation were stunned by Greece 1-0. He has worked his entire international career to get Portugal back to a major final with his 61 goals in 133 appearances showing how he has never shirked his responsibility for the Selecao.

This final was meant to be his moment. He is Portugal. He embodies this team and throughout the tournament he drove his teammates on to new heights, scoring three times and adding three assists as well as inspiring them on and off the pitch.

Unfortunately lightning had struck twice at the Stade de France. In 1998 the French were handed a huge boost ahead of the World Cup final, the last time they hosted a major tournament. The Brazilian Ronaldo — at the time he was at the peak of his powers, the greatest goalscorer in the world — went down with a bizarre illness before the game which was never truly explained and although he played on, he wandered around the pitch lost. Brazil lost 3-0 to France and Didier Deschamps lifted the World Cup on home soil.

This time, the Portuguese Ronaldo lifted the trophy. He wasn’t around to play for most of the game but his team won it for him as he yelled from the sidelines, hobbling around. They did it for Ronaldo who was fit enough to sit on the bench and led the scenes of utter jubilation after Eder’s goal and then at the final whistle.

For all he’s achieved in the game at club level, even though he played a small part in the final, Ronaldo finally has a major trophy with Portugal. He’s craved it for so long.

This may never settle the Lionel Messi vs. Ronaldo debate (even though Messi has failed to achieve glory with Argentina and maybe never will after his retirement) but there’s no doubting this title means Ronaldo has joined the immortals of the soccer pantheon.


FRANCE DISJOINTED THROUGHOUT

Didier Deschamps’ side had to change their gameplan once Ronaldo went off. They looked uneasy and never got going.

Paul Pogba had a quiet game in midfield, Payet did little apart from injuring Ronaldo and was subbed out, plus Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud had little service to work with.

France seemed to be waiting for things to happen rather than making it happen with Moussa Sissoko the only player taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

The Newcastle United midfielder resembled what Pogba should have been. So often blowing hot and cold for Newcastle in the lower reaches of the PL over the past few seasons, Sissoko was at his very best on Sunday, marauding forward time and time again, spanking long-range efforts on goal and he was the best player on the pitch. It is unlikely he will remain at Newcastle in England’s second-tier for much longer.

Deschamps’ decision to bring on Kingsley Coman for Payet was a good one as he whipped in a cross for Griezmann and the tournaments leading scorer somehow headed over from six yards out. He also teed up Giroud and looked lively but even Coman’s spark diminished against the burgundy Portuguese wall.

Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post right at the end of normal time and it looked like it would be one of those days for France. It was.

France came up short when it mattered most and they will have plenty of regrets about their performance against a Portugal side who soaked up the pressure and won through a hammer blow from Eder.


EDER ETCHES HIS NAME INTO HISTORY

Last season Eder couldn’t get into Swansea City’s team in the Premier League.

He joined French side Lille on loan and has since joined them permanently. He will never have to buy a drink in Portugal again after he turned, ran at France’s defense and slammed home a low shot past Hugo Lloris for his first competitive goal for his nation.

Portugal hadn’t lost their last 10 games to France before this final but it seemed written in the stars that they would win the trophy.

Eder will get the headlines but the likes of Pepe and Jose Fonte at central defense were sublime. Especially Pepe, who headed, tackled and drove the Portuguese on from the back. Nani was also a beast and stepped up in Ronaldo’s absence and so was goalkeeper Rui Patricio. The experienced heads led Portugal to glory and the entire team dug deep, just like they have for the entire tournament. They delivered the first major title in Portugal’s history.

Portugal is now unbeaten in 14 competitive games and even though they only won one game in regulation the whole tournament, plus finished third in their group, they walk away with the trophy.

Manager Fernando Santos has called his team the “ugly duckings” and there was nothing pretty about this Portugal team. However, they delivered defensive masterclasses throughout the to come out on top of 24 teams this summer.

These Portuguese Men-of-War will never be forgotten in their homeland.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Spurs snag Clarke, Arsenal eyeing French youngster

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According to a number of reports across England, Tottenham may have secured its first new player signing in 511 days, rumored to have completed a deal for Leeds United winger Jack Clarke.

The BBC reports that Clarke has flown south to London for a medical and that the $12.7 million deal is finalized. The report states there are further, unspecified add-ons to that base payment should they trigger.

The 18-year-old made 25 appearances for the Leeds first-team last season, scoring two goals assisting two more as they reached the playoff semifinal. Clarke’s arrival will mark the first Tottenham signing since Lucas Moura joined in January of 2018, famously failing to sign a player last summer to much criticism, before making a run to the Champions League final during the season.


Arsenal is reportedly after a pair of transfer targets, one on either end of the pitch.

First, more concretely, reports indicate that the Gunners are set to bat the signature of young French defender William Saliba. The 18-year-old currently plays for St. Etienne and saw significant playing time last season, bagging 16 league appearances good for over 1,200 minutes as he helped the club secure a Champions League place with a fourth-place finish, aided by the third-best defensive record in the league.

According to an ESPNFC report by Julien Laurens, the two clubs have reached an agreement for Saliba in the range of $28 million, with the Gunners beating Tottenham and PSG to the punch. Saliba will stay at St. Etienne on loan next season as he looks to continue developing at his boyhood club.

The Gunners are reportedly also following Monaco winger Keita Balde, with the Senegal international currently on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. The 24-year-old spent last season on loan at Inter, where he racked up 24 Serie A appearances – mostly off the bench – scoring five goals and assisting three more.

Reports in Italy indicate that while Inter had the option to buy at the end of the loan spell, they declined as they believed the $38 million price to be too expensive. With Monaco struggling mightily this past season and in serious flux, it’s likely that Balde could move on and help the French club gain funds to reinvest.

Balde found the back of the net in Senegal’s opening AFCON match, a 2-0 win over Tanzania, marking his fourth international goal in 24 caps.


Another African on international duty is Kalidou Koulibaly, whose future is still under serious speculation.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti said Wednesday – completely joking, mind you – that he won’t even return from his vacation in Canada if the club sells Koulibaly. That won’t stop the two Manchester clubs from having a go, and to this point Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis has held firm that only a bid that reaches his $154 million release clause will pry him from the Italian side.

Koulibaly wouldn’t be drawn into speculation about his future when approached at the tournament in Africa, saying, “I don’t know [if I’ll still be at Napoli next year], I think so, but I have to play the AFCON and then after that I’ll go back to Napoli.”

Manchester United has been much closely linked with Koulibaly than Manchester City, but it may be difficult to convince him to switch with the Red Devils not participating in the Champions League next season.


Everton is reportedly in the hunt for Juventus striker Moise Kean according to the Liverpool Echo, with the 19-year-old breaking out last season with The Old Lady. He scored six goals in 13 appearances down the stretch of the season, coming into the squad after the club had all but secured the league title.

While he is a big strike prospect for Juventus, the club is somewhat crowded at the position with Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, and Mario Mandzukic at the position. The club surely could take its time bringing him along, but apparently a disciplinary issue while with the Italy U-21 team at the Euros this summer has added to the club’s concern, along with his hesitation at signing a new contract. Kean’s current deal expires next summer, so this would be the time to cash in on his high-rising stock.

The report states it would cost around $34 million to land the youngster and Ajax is also in the mix.

Women’s World Cup mascot costume stolen from Parc des Prince

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According to reports in France, first by news outlet LCI, the World Cup mascot Ettie had its mascot stolen from Parc des Princes in the early morning hours of last Friday, June 21.

L’Equipe reports the mascot costume has subsequently been recovered and police are investigating.

The reports state that a group of five somehow entered the Paris stadium between 4 and 5 a.m. local time, proceeding to walk around and even play a game on the Parc des Princes pitch before leaving the stadium carrying two large bags that contained the mascot costume. After missing for the weekend, the costume was reportedly returned to a lawyer’s office in Paris on Tuesday in anonymous fashion.

Thankfully, since the costume has been returned, Ettie will be able to make an appearance while the United States takes on host nation France at Parc des Princes in a highly anticipated quarterfinal match on Friday.

The L’Equipe report says that very little was been discernible on the Parc des Princes security camera footage, and police have appealed to the public for assistance. FIFA describes Ettie as “a young chicken with a passion for life and football.” Ettie is the daughter of Footix, the rooster mascot of the 1998 World Cup also held in France.

Toni Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid

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After signing a contract extension in May that runs through 2023, which he said at the time is “probably my last big contract,” Toni Kroos doubled down on that statement, saying he’d like to retire at Real Madrid and will not move to another club as his career winds down.

Speaking to German publication Bild about a new film that documents his life, Kroos said that the end of his current contract is hopefully going to be the end of his career, on his own terms.

“When I am aged 33, that would be a good age to retire,” Kroos told Bild’s subscription service Bild+, as quoted by Marca. “My contract duration was chosen consciously. At 33, that would be a good age to hang up the boots. I will have the opportunity at that moment to choose if I want to do something after that.”

Obviously, it’s possible that something out of his control will take place forcing him to finish his career elsewhere, but he expresses his admiration for Los Blancos and says that he hopes his career will last long enough to ride out his contract and hang up his boots at the club he loves. “Signing for Real Madrid is the best thing I could have done, I will never play in the United States, China or Qatar.”

Kroos also emitted a typical athlete mentality, saying he hoped to make Bayern regret selling him in 2014, something he believes he’s been successful doing. “For me, it was already clear at the time of the transfer that Bayern made a mistake with my sale,” he said. “It’s true that [Bayern president] Uli Hoeness has made it public of late – and it’s a testament to his greatness that he addresses it that way.”

Kroos has won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid as well as a La Liga title since moving to the Bernabeu.

Follow Live: Africa Cup of Nations – Group play reaches round 2

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The first round of group stage matches is complete and now the slate reracks for teams to truly take control of their Africa Cup of Nations destiny.

[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]

Host nation Egypt takes the field for a second time as they meet Democratic Republic of Congo in the late match in Cairo, while Nigeria has the chance to secure advancement as they play Guinea, and Uganda can push Zimbabwe to the brink of elimination.

Egypt and Uganda can each secure passage to the knockout stage through Group A if both should win, while a loss for either side would complicate matters.The host nation will be looking for a better attacking display after Mohamed Salah was isolated in the narrow opening round win over Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Congo DR likely did not expect to be facing elimination this early, with a team that sports West Ham’s Arthur Masuaku, former Premier League midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu, and Porto’s Chancel Mbemba.

In Group B, Nigeria can secure passage to the knockout phase with a win. The clear dominant side in a collection of countries that includes Guinea, Madagascar, and Burundi, Nigeria looked sluggish in its opener and will require a more complete attacking display to convince supporters they can challenge for the Cup.

2019 Africa Cup of Nations schedule – Wednesday, June 26

Group A
Uganda v. Zimbabwe – 1 p.m. ET
Egypt v. Congo DR – 4 p.m. ET

Group B
Nigeria v. Guinea – 10:30 a.m. ET