When Cristiano Ronaldo realized he could no longer continue play in the Euro 2016 final against France, his face said everything. Teary-eyed, helpless, inconsolable. Not even a moth sitting on his eyelid could take his attention away from the fact that he was going to be substituted in easily the biggest match of his international career.
All it took was a harsh tackle from Frenchman Dimitri Payet to injure Ronaldo’s knee and send the talisman off the pitch crying.
After all, from the time he was a young lad playing ‘the beautiful game’ in the streets of Lisbon, Portugal, all he wanted to do was win. And after winning countless trophies for the clubs he played for, the stage was set for him to win his first international trophy.
He did win the trophy, though not in the way he would have wanted. Eder’s goal in extra-time may have sealed the deal for Portugal, but Ronaldo ‘managing’ the team from the sidelines was clearly a spectacle.
A lot has been said about the Portuguese skipper being selfish and not being a team man. Those write-ups were crushed and thrown into the garbage however.
When Portugal were running on empty, dying of tiredness at the end of normal time, it was their captain who stepped up. He cajoled, encouraged and offered advice to his comrades. He maintained his prominence on the touchline, issuing instructions and generally just spurring them on.
When Raphel Guerreiro struggled to shake off an injury, Ronaldo charged down the touchline after him and told him to get back on the field to make up the numbers. He was more animated than any assistant manager. This was what it meant to him.
When Eder scored, you could see the joy on Ronaldo’s face, which was a striking contrast to his sorrowful outburst following his injury. For once, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t Ronaldo who scored the winner, what mattered is that Ronaldo proved he was a team-man. He showed what football really meant to him.
France could count themselves unlucky not to win on home turf. They had a star-studded team but failed in the attacking third. Perhaps, a certain Karim Benzema would have made the difference. A lot was resting on the shoulders of Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, but they failed to deliver on the big night.
Ultimately, it was the inexperienced Portuguese who triumphed, just like the young Greek team that beat them in the 2004 final.
Portugal winning was a spectacle in itself but there were two other teams that ultimately became heroes.
WALES: The Welsh stunned the world by beating World No. 2 and pre-tournament favourites, Belgium, in the quarterfinal. That was the greatest thing you could ask for from a team playing mostly with part-timers but had two superstars in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
To the Wales fans who had waited for this since the 1958 World Cup, it did not matter that they were vastly outnumbered by the multitudes of Belgians who had made the short journey over the border to Lille. The Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, still reverberated around Stade Pierre Mauroy at a spine-tingling volume.