It was the summer of 2004. A nation was expecting. Portugal were hosting the finals of a European Championships for the first time and after a long time, the country could boast of a team that could lay their hands on that trophy.
Led by the inspirational Luis Figo, Portugal stormed their way to the final of the competition where they were hot favourites to brush aside outsiders Greece who had defied odds to reach the final.
In Lisbon, the stage was set, but the script not quite. Greece broke Portuguese hearts winning the final 1-0 and lifting the trophy that had evaded Portugal.
On an evening of tears, the images of a crestfallen Cristiano Ronaldo, almost inconsolable remained in the memories of football fans for a long time. At home, it was Portugal’s best-ever chance to become European champions, and it had vanished in thin air.
Even for Ronaldo who had plenty of football left in him, it was a hard blow to take.
But fast forward to 2016, Ronaldo had transformed from a promising youngster to a world-beater. However, the same wasn’t true for the Portuguese national team who had regressed from being one of Europe’s top teams to underdogs at a European championship.
However, after dodging the axe on several occasions, a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal had made it all the way to the final. But this time they were the underdogs against the hosts France who boasted of one of the most complete sides in the competition.
After a cagey opening to the game, Portugal’s hopes of a surprise win received a body blow when Cristiano Ronaldo had to be stretched off with a knee injury. A teary-eyed Ronaldo departed field as Portugal’s slim hopes faded further.
However, Ronaldo, even though off the pitch was not out of the game. Often limping on the touchline rallying his players on as they frustrated France, the Portuguese talisman ensured his team didn’t give up the fight.
The game without many chances went into extra-time with the scoreline still at 0-0. However, in the 109th minute, Portugal stunned the Stade de France as Eder struck a fine low shot past Hugo Lloris into the net.
Portugal saw off the remaining eleven minutes against a lacklustre French side to win their first-ever European Championship title.
Ronaldo scored just three goals in the competition but they were worth its weight in gold. He netted a brace against Hungary in a 3-3 draw that helped Portugal squeeze into the knockout stages. He then scored Portugal’s second goal in their 2-0 semi-final win over Wales.
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More than his goals, it was his presence that helped Portugal achieve the unthinkable. Ronaldo did what his rival Lionel Messi couldn’t do which is to guide his national team to a major international title.
“I’m so glad, it’s something unbelievable in my career, something that I deserve. Today I had bad luck because I had a small injury, but my colleagues do it. They run, they fight, we played against everyone, we played against 70,000 people in the stadium, nobody believed, but we won,” Ronaldo said after the game.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos though highlighted the importance of Ronaldo to his team.
“Our skipper, he had an immense effort,” Santos said later.
“We had an amazing team spirit, he had an amazing team spirit. Twice he tried as much as he could to get back on the pitch, but he couldn’t do it. But being there in the locker room, on the bench it was very important to us, the way he reached the lads, incentivised them, he believed, like I believed, that tonight was our night,” he added.
Ronaldo and Portugal will be looking to further upset the odds by defending their European Championships in 2021. The Euro 2020 was postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ronaldo who is looking fit as ever, breaking records for Juventus in Serie A would be eyeing the trophy once again in what is likely to be his final European Championship.