Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both starred with a brace each as Portugal and France played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in the final Group F fixture on Wednesday.
France came into the game having already secured their spot in the knockout round, but Portugal needed a point to guarantee qualification.
Fernando Santos made two changes to the side that lost to Germany, with Renato Sanches and Joao Moutinho coming in for Bruno Fernandes and William Carvalho.
France made three changes to their side, with Jules Kounde, Lucas Hernandez and Corentin Tolisso all handed starts at the Puskas Arena.
Kylian Mbappe had the first clear chance of the game, but Hugo Lloris denied him with a smart save.
The match settled into mid-tempo, as both sides threw jabs at one another without landing a knockout punch.
There was a moment of confusion and protests in the 27th minute when referee Antonio Lahoz pointed to the spot and issued a yellow card to Hugo Lloris for a foul on Danilo. Replays showed that the French goalkeeper got a slight touch on the ball before jamming his elbow into the Portugal midfielder’s head.
However, VAR checks upheld the decision, and Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to send Lloris the wrong way.
The goal brought about a period of dominance by Portugal as France struggled to clear their lines, with frustration setting in for several of their players.
The world champions were handed a lifeline from nothing when Nelson Semedo was adjudged to have impeded Mbappe in the box on the stroke of halftime.
Karim Benzema shouldered the responsibility from the spot and made no mistake from 12 yards to score his first career goal at the European Championship.
The Real Madrid striker put France ahead at the start of the second half when he placed a superb finish beyond Rui Patricio after Paul Pogba had played him in with a pristine through ball.
The goal was initially ruled out for offside, but the VAR review showed that Benzema had timed his run to perfection and the goal was allowed to stand.
Portugal were handed an opportunity from a more straightforward penalty after Jules Kounde handled in the box. Ronaldo once again stepped up to draw his nation level on the hour mark, entering the record books in the process.
The goal was incredibly his 109th in Portugal’s colors which took him level with Iranian legend Ali Daei as the male player with the most goals at the international level.
It was also his 14th goal in the European Championship, taking him further clear as the all-time highest goalscorer in the history of the competition.
Rui Patricio pulled off a stunning double save to keep his side in the game shortly after. Pogba sent a superb curling effort into the top corner, but the Portugal keeper kept him out with a save at full stretch.
Antoine Griezmann seemed destined to score with the rebound, but Patricio’s quick reflexes allowed him to smother the shot away.
There was a penalty appeal in injury time after Kingsley Coman went down under a challenge in the box, but the referee waved play on. Drama ensued at full-time as security officials had to restrain a streaker who attempted to reach Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the overall balance of play, a draw was probably the right result in a game that was evenly matched. The two sides have now qualified for the knockout round, with France progressing as group winners and Portugal through as the best-placed third team.
Up next for Portugal will be a mouth-watering clash with Belgium on Sunday. Meanwhile, France will trade tackles with Switzerland on Monday.
Here are five talking points from the highly enthralling game.
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#5 Karim Benzema finally steps up to the plate for France
Karim Benzema has been away from the international scene for over five years due to controversial off-field issues.
In that time, France prospered, culminating in their World Cup triumph in Russia three years ago. Benzema also shone on the club scene with Real Madrid, leading many to clamor for his return to the national fold.
The 33-year-old ended the just-concluded season in spectacular form, and Didier Deschamps finally brought his spell in the international wilderness to an end.
However, it was far from a straightforward return for the former Lyon man. His first game back saw him miss a penalty against Wales before suffering a first-half injury in the friendly against Bulgaria.
A goal disallowed for offside against Germany was as good as it got for Benzema in front of goal in the first two games at Euro 2020. He, however, came alive in the clash with Portugal and ended the night with a brace to take his tally for France to 28 goals from 85 matches.
There is still a lot of football to be played in the European Championship. If France are to go all the way, they will need their talisman up top to perform at the level expected.
Hopefully, his two-goal return against Portugal will be the spark he needs in front of goal.
Also Read: Paul Merson’s column – Euro 2020: 5 surprise packages of the tournament so far
#4 Can lightning strike twice for Portugal?
Portugal are defending champions of the European Championship, but their journey to their first international trophy was far from straightforward in 2016.
The Iberian nation were beneficiaries of an expanded tournament that allowed four third-placed teams to qualify. Portugal took advantage en-route to defeating France in the final.
Once again, the Selecao have failed to finish in the top two and instead booked their place in the last 16 by virtue of finishing as the best third-placed team.
Just like in France five years ago, Portugal’s last group stage match ended in a draw. They also flirted with an early elimination at different points in their thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace to see them through on that occasion. With similar circumstances playing out this year, the more superstitious fans might believe that the stars have aligned in Portugal’s favor.
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