Pragmatic Portugal shatter France's summer dream
By Patrick Vignal
PARIS (Reuters) - The smell of teargas floating in the air near the Eiffel Tower proved an ominous sign on the night when France's dream of a perfect soccer summer turned sour.
The clashes at the Paris fan zone, where supporters trying to force their way in were pushed back by riot police, were relatively minor.
But such distractions were not part of a script which was then shredded on the pitch where Portugal gave a spirited rearguard performance to deny France their happy ending.
The French were desperate for some light relief when the tournament kicked off a month ago after strikes and violent protests against a labour law, with a state of emergency still in place after Islamist attacks that killed 130 people in the French capital in November.
France started the tournament in sluggish fashion but improved match after match, advancing to the final with a convincing 2-0 win over world champions Germany.
In the final, Portugal suffered a blow when their most dangerous player, Cristiano Ronaldo, was carried off on a stretcher during the first half.
That adversity seemed to encourage the Portuguese to battle even harder for their first major title. The hosts, who had burned up a lot of energy in their win over Germany on Thursday, ran out of steam and dropped their guard deep in extra time when substitute striker Eder fired home the only goal.
GRIEZMANN SAD BUT PHILOSOPHICAL
"We're all sad and unhappy, but that's football, sometimes it gives and sometimes it takes away," said forward Antoine Griezmann, who scored six goals in the finals but failed to find the back of the net when it mattered the most.
"We'll just have to bounce back stronger to prove that this team have a great future."
Coach Didier Deschamps, who has been given the credit for turning France back into a tight, cohesive unit rather than a loose collection of big egos, will now switch his mind to the qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The pragmatic manager has a team with arguably more talent up front than ever before and two exciting 20-year-olds to call on in Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial.
The rise of centre back Samuel Umtiti, 22, who won his first three caps in the tournament and showed maturity beyond his years, is another reason for Deschamps to hope for great things to come.
"We didn't get the reward, but we have an exceptional group and that let's us think that we will have better days," Deschamps said.
It was cloudy in Paris on Monday, the Eiffel Tower was closed and many fans woke up with a nasty hangover but still in love with their team despite its stumble at the final hurdle.
"We have regrets, but there's also pride," said midfielder Blaise Matuidi.
"We have reunited the French people and created a craze around this team. We gave joy and happiness to those who like football, and even to those who liked it less ... We can be proud of this."
(Additional reporting by Ed Dove; Editing by Keith Weir)