Portugal script the Ultimate Underdog’s tale
In the past 24 years, I have heard and witnessed the magical stories of the underdogs taking the honours of Europe’s most prized trophy in football. In 1992, Denmark entered the tournament at the last minute and went on to claim the Euros. In 2004, it was Greece and now in 2016, Portugal became the latest entrant. Each of those wins were cherished by the football fans and added a fresh flavour into the world’s most followed sport.
In 2004, Greece, led by Angelos Charisteas winning header, the island nation were able to win the trophy for the first time. Portugal, playing at home were stunned, as lightning struck them twice in a matter of weeks. Portugal in 2004, looked way more composed than this year’s squad, yet, there is no rule that says, the strongest team must or will win all the time.
Cristiano Ronaldo has come a long way since that defeat. Having played (still playing for one) for arguably two of the best football clubs in the world, Manchester United (2003-2010) and Real Madrid (2010-present), the 31-year old has been a goal machine and has won the UEFA Champion’s league titles with both the clubs.
But, when it came to the national side, it is a world apart. The squad, coaching and the support lack the quality that are found in the top clubs. Plus, there isn’t any money playing for the country. What drives Ronaldo to be part of such arrangements?
Pride and Passion?
It took twelve years of maturity to be in a position where Ronaldo found himself during the tournament. The manner he lead his side, not just from the front (those two goals against Hungary was crucial), it is safe to say, his coaching and behind the scenes motivation was a key aspect for Portugal to lift their first major trophy in football.
How do you rate an influencer? Cristiano Ronaldo might have lost innumerable awards to Messi over the years, however when it comes to influence, the Madeira born footballer is miles ahead of the Argentinean. Ronaldo might lack the flair and touch of Messi, yet he scores goals at the same rate, if not more than the Barcelona star. Add the emotional touch to his remarkable football skills, he emerges out as a natural leader, and this time
Portugal entered the knockouts without registering a win in the group stage. Thanks to the new format, lucky losers got a spot to play in the round of 16. Since then, they have managed to close the games in tight situations and in the finals, they held off the French attack.
If the best player in your team doesn’t contribute on the field and yet emerge victorious against a stronger opponent in their home ground, it goes to show the amount of work Fernando Santos, the head coach, has put in to inspire his cadets to do the unthinkable.
“I’ve always said we’re a team,” Santos said post-match. “I never hide my thoughts. I always tell my players what’s on my mind.”
The ex-Portuguese national knew his squad had great talent. He understood, one cannot rely on Ronaldo alone to rescue his team – “I’ve always told them we’ve got great talent but we need to fight more than our opponents, run more than them and be more focussed. We have an amazing bunch with talent and they’ve always believed what I told them: that we could win this.”
This victory by the Portuguese comes as a breath of fresh air in football after all the drama that surrounded the governing matters which led to the suspension of ex-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and ex-UEFA President, Michel Platini. UEFA, though without a President organised a wonderful tournament which demonstrates yet again, the administrators are mere guardians. They cannot script a story such as yesterday or that night of 4 July, 2004, when Greeks stunned the Portuguese at Lisbon.
Once the feeling has sunk in, the focus will go back to Cristiano Ronaldo. None, can question his club football credentials, the only question remains, will he have enough gas in his tank to inspire his men to compete and win the football’s biggest prize in 2018?