Éder’s fleeting moment in the sun

Éder’s fleeting moment in the sun

Éder’s club career is a stellar, albeit unremarkable, one. At 32 years old, the striker is currently going through the most successful spell of his career, having won the Russian Premier League and Russian Cup last season, following that up with the Super Cup this time around. 

He started his career in the lower reaches of Portuguese football with Oliveira do Hospital and Tourizense. Aside from his Russian successes, the only club silverware he has to boast about was a Taça de Portugal with Académica Coimbra and the Taça de Liga from his time representing Braga, which came in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

There really isn’t much to write home about between those victories in his homeland and current accolades with Lokomotiv. First of all, his big move to Swansea saw him manage a mere 15 appearances, failing to record a single goal. Then came two terms with Lille, in which they finished fifth and 12th.

Most footballers, especially attackers, will likely be waiting for a moment in which they can capture the attention of fans for years to come, providing an incident that elevates the way they are viewed by the public forever. The world’s best players are able to produce such moments on a regular basis, while they come once in a lifetime for others. If Éder was waiting for that moment to come along for him, it is without doubt that he got it during the final of Euro 2016.

Looking at his overall record for A Seleçção – just like his club career – it is far from outstanding. He now has a tally of 35 matches, from which he has scored just five goals. It should be noted that aside from his historic strike, none of his goals for the national team have come in competitive matches.

Even during the tournament, he had been a figure very much on the periphery of Fernando Santos’ side. Game one of the Euros saw Portugal play out a 1-1 draw with Iceland, in which Éder got just six minutes at the end of the game. He followed that up with seven minutes during the stalemate against Austria. After sitting on the bench for the 3-3 draw against Hungary, he wouldn’t get onto the pitch in any of Portugal’s three knockout matches on their way to the final, despite extra time being required in the first two. 

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There were plenty of questions about Portugal’s route to Stade de France. They came as Santos’ side had finished third in their group, while they only won within the 90 minutes once across the whole tournament – against Wales in the semi-final. 

Meanwhile, France’s star-studded squad had won all of their games, aside from a goalless draw against Switzerland. This run included some impressive results, including as a 2-0 semi-final victory over Germany and 5-2 win over Iceland. With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba on the pitch, it was felt that one of the stars on show would be able to make their mark on the game.

Looking at the Portuguese outfit, this was meant to be Ronaldo’s final. After his tears when A Seleçção were knocked out of their home Euros in 2004, he had worked his way up to becoming a man with multiple Ballon d’Or awards, had once been the world’s most expensive player, and won a plethora of major titles. This was the time for the superstar to finally bring his country along with him on his road to legend.

However, under a barrage of bugs and searing heat, it wasn’t meant to be for their talismanic figure. In the early stages, he was hit by a tough tackle from Dimitri Payet when flicking the ball. He went off for treatment, was sent back on, went down to get his knee strapped up and carried on playing again – but eventually gave up and was stretchered off in the 25th minute, replaced by Ricardo Quaresma.

Their main man stayed on the sidelines to shout instructions and encouragement to his teammates,though Portugal still needed someone to step up on the pitch if they were to lift the trophy. Throughout the majority of the match, it was Rui Patrício who was ensuring that they still had a shot at glory.

It was in the 79th minute that Éder was introduced to the action, coming on to replace Renato Sanches. It is safe to say there wasn’t too much expected of him, as is summarised by the commentator: “Éder is a forward with not a very good scoring record,” when he entered the pitch.

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When the 90 minutes came to an end, nothing had come to test the lack of faith being shown in the attacker. However, he did get a chance to show what he could do when getting on the end of Quaresma’s corner. However, a tame header was dealt with by Hugo Lloris, even if the Tottenham stopper made it look difficult.

Then it came in the 110th minute: the goal that would define Éder’s career and bring elation to his nation. He received the ball from João Moutinho with his back to goal, while Laurent Koscielny grappled with his shirt in a desperate attempt to get it off him. The striker stood strong, holding off the Arsenal man and buying himself some space.

Despite his ability to keep possession, this really shouldn’t have been a situation that troubled the French. After all, this was a player who had never scored a competitive goal for his country, receiving pretty much no support from his teammates. In addition to that, as well as Koscielny, the striker had Samuel Umtiti, Pogba and Blaise Matuidi in close proximity, with Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna well positioned if he tried to go wide.

Éder was able to pull off what had looked so unlikely. Having seen off Koscielny, he struck a powerful shot from range that avoided Umtiti’s dangling leg and flew past Lloris’ outstretched arms on its way into the bottom corner. He ran off to celebrate, the purest form of joy clearly running through his body. The ecstasy was not limited to him, though, as the hero was mobbed by his teammates, sent Ronaldo into streams of tears, and inspired unadulterated adulation from back home. 

As he sent the ball ripping through the air like an arrow through French hearts, Éder booked his place in Portugal history. It was exclaimed on commentary: “How about that? The striker that rarely scores, has scored maybe the biggest goal in the history of the Portugal national team.”

Of all the players on the pitch that day, he was arguably the one with the least pedigree, despite being one of the oldest members of Santos’ squad. Yet it is this unlikely hero, who had been ignored for so much of the tournament, that managed to win the final for his nation. 

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The final whistle brought about the celebrations of the entire country as substitutes and staff bounded onto the pitch to celebrate with those who had secured the Euros for Portugal. However, by the time the trophy was lifted, Èder had already faded into the background. 

As Ronaldo jubilantly held it above his head, it was Moutinho and Pepe who stood front and centre with him. When the camera pans out to show their entire celebrations, it can be noticed that the scorer of that historic goal is on the very edge of proceedings. He may have already returned to the periphery, but it doesn’t seem like he cared, happily filming himself and his teammates on his phone.

Indeed, Éder isn’t somebody who was meant to be at the core of the action. In all honesty, it’s surprising enough that he even made it onto the pitch for such a big occasion. Yet he here was, the man who had secured Portugal’s first-ever major trophy.

Sadly, the glory wasn’t a springboard for better peaks. In fact, it was back to normality very quickly for Éder. When the club season resumed, he wasn’t returning to Real Madrid like Pepe and Ronaldo, while he didn’t get a big summer move like Sanches, Raphaël Guerreiro, João Mário and Nani.

Instead, he went back to Lille, who ended up finishing 12th in Ligue 1. In addition, he wasn’t even part of Portugal’s squad for the Confederations Cup the following summer, in which they finished third. Notably, he has played just six games for Portugal after that tournament’s culmination.

Many players in world football can only dream of having their career defined by a moment that comes anywhere near Éder’s strike. That the man with an unremarkable record provided such an extraordinary moment should offer hope that others can place their names amongst the greats – even if it always seemed unfathomable.

By Danny Lewis @DannyLewis_95

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