A challenge pitting the might of France against the class of Portugal surely deserved the final outcome of a 2-2 draw amid plenty of drama and a pulsating heartbeat.
Yes, a packed Puskas Arena in Budapest welcomed the European Champions and the World Champions as the fans in attendance expected nothing less than a riveting contest.
Afterall, one surely can’t find games of this magnitude coming along every day as a sea of Les Bleus fans mixed with the maroon brigade of Portugal was a sight to behold.
Boy, did this challenge of epic proportions live up to the hype with two ex-teammates at Real Madrid lighting up the fixture as few would. A Cristiano Ronaldo first nullified by a Kareem Benzema equaliser and then a Kareem Benzema second nullified by a Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser.
Wow, talk about role reversals here!
So, as both these powerhouses sealed their place in the last 16, lets dissect this game of stardom, performance, drama and skill:
Ronaldo and Benzema share the spoils in the first 45
Despite beating France in their own backyard to win the European Championship in 2016, Portugal entered this contest as slight underdogs’ having only won this bout in their last 13 matches against the Les Bleus with 11 losses and one draw.
Well, for me the underdog status wasn’t much of a concern as CR7 looked ready for this showdown having already scored a brace against Hungary in their first outing.
And ready he was, as only in the 6th minute, the 36-year-old footballing institution created Portugal’s first opportunity on goal with a header that was comfortably gobbled by the experienced Tottenham and French Captain, Hugo Lloris.
The attack minded French side created a brilliant opportunity of their own in the 16th minute as they opened up the Portuguese defence with a mouth-watering through ball by Paul Pogba to Mbappe who extracted a rather brilliant save from Rui Patricio.
With a chance created at either end in no time, surely this contest looked to have goals aplenty.
The goal would come for Portugal in the 30th minute courtesy a penalty after Lloris had rammed into Danilo trying to clear the ball away from a long cross. Not the ones to be given a penalty on albeit the referee thought otherwise along with soaring the French captain misery’s courtesy showing him a yellow.
Thanks to this lucky break, CR7 bent in his 108th strike for Portugal.
One would agree, football is a funny game as what goes around comes around.
Portugal this time were at the receiving end of a penalty, seconds before the end of the first 45 as Mbappe on this occasion collided with Portuguese defender Semedo and fell on the ground trying to receive a long ball in the Portuguese D. Again, it didn’t seem like a penalty but was still given as Kareem Benzema slotted it in to draw France level at the stroke of halftime.
As time was called on the first half, surely it seemed there was more drama instore.
The drama of the ex-Madrid teammates continued in the second 45
To say this game was dramatic was an understatement.
Yes, as soon as the second half unfolded, it was France’s turn to go a goal up, courtesy Kareem Benzema again. The Real Madrid star made no mistake in slotting the ball in after he was fed with a crucial long ball by who other than Paul Pogba. The French midfielder was at his skilful best in controlling the midfield and aided the forwards with sumptuous long balls. The decision did go to VAR to check Benzema being off-side, albeit the goal was given.
In a sheer turn of fortunes, the French now led 2-1 courtesy Benzema’s brace.
Portugal and CR7 had all to do to as their very place in the tournament was at stake.
Well, creating opportunity in the face of adversity is Ronaldo’s forte as the Portuguese talisman earned yet another penalty for his side. The ball hit the hand of the French defender, Kounde in the D, as the third spot-kick of the game was given, the highest for a European Championship fixture.
The result, Portugal drew level as expected. CR7 struck his 109th to go level with Iran striker Ali Daei as the joint highest scorer in the history of international football. Wow, what a feat by remarkable Ronaldo!
France almost got their third in the 68th minute as Pogba fired a shot from the edge of the Portuguese penalty area with Rui Patricio again doing superbly well to keep the ball out and then saved the rebound effort from Griezmann. Truly fantastic!
The game was completely on a knife edge with my heart-rate fluctuating every moment.
Well, when I thought things couldn’t get more dramatic, I was up for a huge surprise, as France almost managed yet another penalty in injury time of the full 90 as Coman was brought down by Bruno Fernandes in the penalty area.
VAR luckily for Portugal saw it otherwise as the game finally ended amid drama aplenty at two apiece. The most befitting result to be honest as both teams were assured of their round of 16 berths.
Portugal have a tougher task ahead than France
So, as the two teams march into the pre-quarters, France as the leaders of Group F have a fixture that’s relatively easier against Switzerland vis-à-vis, the likes Portugal would face against another European superpower in Belgium.
Yes, having finished third in this group behind France and Germany, Portugal would surely need to bring their A game when they lock horns with the Red Devils. A contest which would be as exciting as their French excursion.
Lots to look forward to as the Championship enters its business end.
And before I forget, My Dear England be ready for the German challenge, a team that has found their lost mojo and how!