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To put it simply, Eder was an unlikely match winner.

The striker’s international record pointed to that as Portugal went into the Euro 2016 final against France.

Euro 2016: A look at Eder's unlikely yet career-defining performance in the finalGiven that he had only scored three goals, all of which came in non-competitive fixtures, over 28 appearances. That’s probably why so little was expected of him when he came off the bench 79 minutes into the tournament showpiece. “He [Eder] actually told me when I sent him on that he was going to score,” Portugal manager Fernando Santos stated after the match. “I smiled.”

Then, with the scores locked at 0-0 and the match meandering towards penalties, Eder scored the most important goal in the history of Portuguese football. After receiving a short pass from João Moutinho, he shrugged off French centre-back Laurent Koscielny in order to work an opening to shoot. He might have looked a little ungainly as he addressed the ball, but he nonetheless latched onto a low drive from around 30 yards out. Its power was such that it skipped off the turf a couple of times before beating the outstretched hand of Hugo Lloris. Next it rippled the back of the net, and with that, Portugal were European champions.

The Euro 2016 crown was Portugal’s first ever major international trophy, and although the triumph was largely delivered by a string of unified defensive displays, the country’s match winner was a journeyman pro who has often been regarded as little more than a source of frustration. In a way, though, there is something entirely fitting about that. After waiting so long, Eder finally managed to prove his worth on one of the game’s biggest stages, and, in doing so, he supplied a major trophy to a Portuguese team that have needed to wait even longer in order to win one. As Santos would later put it, “The ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan.”

Yet for all of the significance attached to Eder’s long-range piledriver, he actually offered a lot more than that single career-defining moment in the final. In contrast to Nani, who operated as a lone striker following Cristiano Ronaldo’s withdrawal through injury, the Lille attacker offered some presence up front. He used his height and size to out muscle the opposition defenders, and with a genuine target man up top, Portugal were now able to ping longer passes into his general vicinity.

In that sense, Eder gave his teammates, who spent a fair percentage of the match struggling for traction, an outlet higher up the pitch. From there, he could win aerial duels for the Portuguese, something he did on three separate occasions, and he could also win free-kicks to take the pressure off Santos and his players. The fact that he was fouled five times spoke to his approach, in that his presence alone did a lot to unsettle the French defence.

He was the player through whom his teammates could advance the ball most effectively, and just when it looked like Euro 2016 would be decided by penalties, he also became the player to make sporting history on 108 minutes. For someone who has endured such a tough path to get to this point in his career, Eder’s strike felt like a wonderful way to punctuate Portugal’s greatest achievement on the football field.

An ugly duckling no more, Eder is now a national hero.

Originally published at licencetoroam.net

Post written by Will Stratmann, Twitter: @willstratmann
for Licence to Roam, Blog: licencetoroam.net, Twitter: @licencetoroam

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