Twelve years ago Ronaldo was left in tears after Greece wrecked his Euro dream. This time the Real Madrid star was in tears, but the script had a very different ending.
Ronaldo’s tears, not for the first time, will be the enduring image of a European Championship final.
The Portuguese couldn’t hold back when his side were shocked by Greece in 2004, and this time injury had him sobbing as he was stretchered off after 25 minutes of the final.
For all of his undoubted greatness, the 31-year-old’s finest days have not been in a Portugal shirt and that, for some, renders him as an also-ran in the pantheon of the all-time greats. Nonsense, of course, given Ronaldo’s status as one of the finest players of all time regardless of the outcome of this latest final.
Dimitri Payet, the twinkle-toed midfield maestro who lit up France’s early victories, turned villain with a premeditated foul on Portugal’s star man. A visibly distraught Ronaldo battled on for a few minutes before finally accepting that he could not continue. It was not meant to be this way.
As Ronaldo broke down, the watching world couldn’t help but feel for a man whose absence would make any final poorer. Payet basically ruined the game for everyone, not least Ronaldo.
But this time the script was to have a very different ending for the two-time world player of the year.
Ronaldo breaks hoodoo
For 110 minutes, France shaded a thoroughly lacklustre final which failed to come anywhere matching the pre-game hype. Antoine Griezmann, the best player and top scorer at the tournament, had two big chances to score his seventh goal of the tournament, but both of his headers failed to get beyond Rui Patricio. It wasn’t to be the ending France fans had dreamed of.
Andre-Pierre Gignac, somehow picked ahead of Lyon goal machine Andre Lacazette by Didier Deschamps, came closest for France, but his scuffed shot off the inside of the post proved to be as good as it got for the French.
Ronaldo appeared from the tunnel at full time taking on the self-appointed role of co-coach/motivator to rally the troops ahead of a bruising extra time. And the pep talk with his players seemed to work.
Portugal didn’t deviate from their stubborn ultra defensive strategy which saw them ahead for a total of 73 minutes in the entire tournament. But it proved an effective approach for a team who finished third in their group and still evaded France, Germany and Italy on the tough side of the draw.
Eder’s thunderbolt early in the second half of extra time eventually settled the game in Portugal’s favour to give Ronaldo the international success his CV has been missing.
In the end Ronaldo was a helpless figure for over 100 minutes of this contest. With heavy strapping still on his knee, he still found a reason to rip off his shirt and throw it into the jubilant Portugal end.
And best of all, he found a moment amid the madness to embrace his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who shaped Ronaldo into the serial winner he is today.
Ronaldo may have been off the field for far longer than he was on it in Paris, but he was of course integral to Portugal’s first ever international success. Another reason to celebrate Ronaldo’s greatness on this most emotional of nights for Portugal’s finest export.
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