Ronaldo Becomes a European Champion
Cristiano Ronaldo was crying, his chest heaving, his knee throbbing, his heart aching like never before. Ronaldo, prone on the turf, sat up slowly and did what he surely never imagined having to do in a game like this: He wrapped his captain’s armband around teammate Luis Nani as his eyes clouded over. Then he lay back, shimmied onto a stretcher and was carried to the locker room.That moment, just 24 minutes into the final of the European Championships at the Stade de France, felt critical. One of the biggest stars in the sport going off after less than half an hour? It was the sort of twist that can define an entire match. And it did. It was not only a big blow to the Portugal national team, but also to several gamblers who had trusted their money on arguably one of the best footballers to don a pair of football boots. A Kenyan had to tweet how much his money was carried on a stretcher.
Also Read: This Is Football
Portugal, faced with the loss of its leader and its motor and its man who is always in lights, did not wither or wilt or wobble. Instead, the Portuguese dug in, carried the match into extra time and with Ronaldo hobbling up and down the sideline,stunned France with a goal in the 109th minute, beating the hosts, 1-0, to claim Portugal’s first major soccer trophy. They did, though it was far from pretty. Portugal’s run at this tournament was strange: it performed dismally in all three of its preliminary round games, finishing in third place in its group (behind Hungary and Iceland), but in this first Euros of 24 teams, they managed to qualify for the round of 16 anyway.
Critics will say Portugal was far from entertaining. The team led for only 73 minutes of the 720 it played at this event, but the results were undeniable. Even without Ronaldo, Portugal never faltered. The manner in which their coach responded to losing its biggest star was quite clear that he had a very clear Plan B. Bringing on Ricardo Quaresma was presumably a case to add another type of firepower in the absence of Ronaldo. Fernando Santos made all the right decisions, shifting Portugal’s formation to stifle France’s attack and, later, bringing on Eder — a forward who is often criticized for inconsistent play — who delivered the title-winning goal.
At the final whistle, while Portugal’s players piled on one another in celebration, the French players sank to the turf. Bacary Sagna and Co. could actually make you think there was going to be another 15 minutes during the extra. For a country still recovering from the terrorist attacks last November and enduring nationwide flooding as well as constant worker strikes, the Euros were seen as a chance to celebrate something grand together. To smile.
In the end, there was, perhaps, a surface satisfaction: the tournament was run smoothly, security was largely effective and there were no major incidents, but the lingering feeling for the French will be the disappointment of falling just short.
Also Read: The Perfect Goal