It’s fair to say Eder was an unlikely hero, as Portugal beat France 1-0 to secure a dramatic extra-time victory to win Euro 2016 on Sunday.
The 28-year-old Guinea-Bissau-born forward had played just 13 minutes of Euro 2016 action before the final, coming on as a late substitute for his side’s opening 1-1 draw with Iceland as well as in the 0-0 draw for their second group game against Austria.
The Lille forward may not have even made it on to the field in the final were it not for an early injury to Portugal’s main goal threat, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Moreover, prior to the final, Eder had scored just three goals in 28 appearances for Portugal — none of which were in competitive matches — so not many people would have predicted that he would score a brilliant decisive winner in such pressurised circumstances after being introduced in the 79th minute.
In addition, the story of his long road to success is a poignant one. He grew up in difficult conditions, with his family moving to Portugal from Guinea-Bissau to seek a better life while Eder was still a baby.
His parents were ultimately unable to provide proper support for him and he was put in the Sunflower Care Home in Coimbra, and spent much of his childhood there from the age of eight onwards.
However, the football star refused to forget his roots. After receiving his first monthly salary of €400 from Portuguese second division club Tourizense at the age of 18, the money was promptly sent to his birth mother, according to ESPN.
His talent was quickly realised, and after making his Primeira Liga debut for Académica in 2008, he joined Braga four years later. It was there that he developed a reputation as one of Europe’s most promising strikers. His release clause was set at €30million, with a number of top English sides including Tottenham rumoured to be interested.
However, after tearing his cruciate in 2013, interest in the player diminished. He eventually joined Swansea for a fee in the region of just €6 million, but during his brief stint at the Premier League club, he looked a shadow of the player who had once terrorised defences in Portugal.
After zero goals in 15 appearances in all competitions (only four of which were starts) for the Welsh club last season, he was shipped off to Lille.
It was in Ligue 1, however, where he began to show signs of his old self. In the second half of last season, he recovered sufficiently from the Swansea disappointment to register a respectable six goals in 14 appearances for the French side, ultimately doing enough to sign a permanent deal with the club and earn a place in Portugal’s 23-man Euro 2016 squad.
However, Eder looked set to be a minor, forgettable footnote in Fernando Santos’ side’s incredible story.
The 22/1 outsiders, after struggling through the group stages with three successive draws, had defied expectations in the knockout rounds with a series of excellent displays. Consequently, somewhat improbably, they found themselves in the final of the summer’s biggest footballing event.
Given his lack of game time at that point, most people would not have expected Eder to figure as Portugal faced the formidable task of overcoming host nation and overwhelming favourites France last weekend, particularly with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani already flourishing in attack.
However, one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. Although Eder was not a direct replacement for the injured Ronaldo who went off after 25 minutes in tears, the superstar’s absence ultimately paved the way for the lesser-known player’s moment of magic.
With the game scoreless on 79 minutes, Portugal were desperate for a goal. Santos, so often accused of conservatism, took a significant gamble, bringing off midfielder Renato Sanches to accommodate the big attacker.
The game remained remained tight and tense until the 109th minute in extra-time, when Eder easily shrugged off a tired challenge from France centre-back Laurent Koscielny just outside the penalty area, before producing a masterful, unstoppable shot into the corner of Hugo Lloris’ net.
The Stade de France was stunned, as perhaps at most two people had been expecting this brilliant bolt out of nowhere.
Eder claimed Cristiano Ronaldo had told him he’d score the winner, but no one had more faith in the player’s ability than the striker himself.
On 14 June, the day of Portugal’s opening Euro 2016 encounter, the 28-year-old published a Facebook post that comprised of a plain black background and a simple, defiant message. Its words? “Go ahead, underestimate me.”