France win hearts but lose final
“I said to myself in the shower that hitting the post will haunt me until the end of my career and even afterwards. It’s a nightmare.”
André-Pierre Gignac and his France team-mates will never forget the pain of losing the UEFA EURO 2016 final to Portugal. The forward was so nearly the hero, striking the upright in stoppage time after coming on as a substitute for Olivier Giroud. France had got so close to their dream, only to be denied at the last.
“Football can be very cruel, especially tonight,” Didier Deschamps told me after the defeat. Captain Hugo Lloris was visibly emotional as he commented: “It’s important to come to terms with it. We feel very sad, but that’s just the way it is.”
Lloris’s final answer to me of the tournament pointed the way to addressing the heartache of missing out on the unique opportunity of lifting the trophy on home soil.
He said: “We must be proud of what we have done. Even if we lost the game, we achieved many positive things in the tournament. I think we made many French people proud and that’s the most important thing.”
The French public warmed to the current generation of players like no other Les Bleus side since the glory days of the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000. Antoine Griezmann became the nation’s darling for his goals and his smile, Dimitri Payet thrilled at the beginning of the campaign, and the stock of the team rose throughout the finals.
This was a France side constructed in the face of adversity. Injury deprived Deschamps of Raphaël Varane, his best defender, and off-field issues ensured Karim Benzema and Mamadou Sakho, previously mainstays of the squad, were unavailable.
In his pre-final press conference, Deschamps spoke about France’s difficult year, which included the terrorist attack at the Stade de France on 13 November 2015, the night of a friendly victory against Germany.
Les Bleus’ most memorable evening of this EURO was the Marseille semi-final, a 2-0 success over Germany at a pumped-up Stade Vélodrome. Lloris put in a world-class performance between the sticks and Griezmann scored a double to finish the tournament with six goals and the adidas Golden Boot.
However, the Atlético Madrid front man missed a great headed chance in the second half of the final, and he said afterwards: “It’s cruel and magnificent at the same time. We’ve lived through some extraordinary moments, and the saddest moments as well.
“We have to learn. We gave it our all and we have no regrets. I’m proud of the squad, proud of everybody. Now we have to come back stronger.”