How Portugal lost Ronaldo and learned to ‘suffer’ before winning Euro 2016

However earlier than a ball had been kicked, coach Fernando Santos prophesied an unlikely victory.

“From the primary second, the primary qualification sport, he stated, ‘We are going to win Euro 2016,'” Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares tells CNN Sport.

“He put it up on the board. In that point, nobody actually believed him. And throughout the qualification video games he was already placing the identical message on the board — ‘We are going to win Euro 2016.’ We hadn’t even certified!”

Friday marks 4 years since Portugal’s 1-Zero victory over France within the ultimate of the Euros. The host nation had loved a smoother passage to the ultimate and was tipped to win, just for Eder’s long-range, extra-time strike to spoil France’s get together in Paris’ Stade de France and grant Portugal its best second in worldwide soccer.

And it was largely achieved with out the talismanic presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been helped off the sector in tears after sustaining a knee harm within the first half after he was tackled by Dmitri Payet.

Ronaldo, who was denied European glory in 2004 with defeat within the ultimate to Greece, would spend the rest of the sport restlessly hobbling alongside the sidelines, shouting orders to his group.

As for these on the pitch, the absence of their captain proved a galvanizing second.

“It was robust to digest,” defender Jose Fonte tells CNN Sport as he displays on the ultimate.

“However as soon as (Ronaldo) received off the pitch, we had been one another and I noticed the resilience in my teammates. I noticed they grinded their enamel and stated, ‘Let’s go. It may be with out Ronaldo at the moment. We have to do it with out him, so we have set to work even tougher.’

“That was the angle throughout the sport and at halftime — we simply saved believing. It made us even stronger, I feel.”

Cristiano Ronaldo is comforted by Portugal coach Fernando Santos as he is carried oon a stretcher off the pitch during the Euro 2016 final.

‘Each participant’s dream’

Paris’ Portuguese group had offered devoted pockets of help in stadiums all through the match, however again dwelling followers eagerly awaited the group’s return.

Having seen the nation’s golden era of the early 2000s — which included the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and Deco — fall brief at main tournaments, victory in 2016 felt overdue.

“It was absolute insanity, there have been unimaginable scenes after we received out of the airplane,” says Fonte, who starred all through the knockout rounds in 2016.

“Even within the air, we had two fighter jets coming alongside us after we received into Portuguese airspace. I keep in mind seeing them with the Portugal scarf and flag within the airplane, that was unimaginable.

“Then we landed … I began seeing individuals ready for us exterior the airport. After which the bus parade, there have been hundreds of thousands and hundreds of thousands of individuals within the streets celebrating with us. Nobody will ever neglect that second — it was simply an unbelievable factor to only be a part of, unbelievable.”

Firefighter's spray water in Portugal's national colors as the team return from France.

Crimson and inexperienced jets of water greeted the flight because the group touched down in Lisbon, whereas 1000’s lined the streets for the trophy parade by the capital.

“I felt just like the happiest man on the planet as a result of carrying your nationwide group’s shirt is exclusive and to win a trophy to your nation is each participant’s dream,” winger Nani, who gained the Champions League and 4 Premier League titles with Manchester United, tells CNN Sport.

“It was the very best level of my profession. It was so good to offer this pleasure to our individuals.”

Portuguese players show the European Cup to supporters in Lisbon.

Instilling perception

Within the ultimate towards France, Portugal proved it was greater than only a one-man group in Ronaldo.

His affect all through the match was plain — offering two essential targets to salvage a draw within the group phases towards Hungary and breaking the impasse within the semifinals with a leaping header towards Wales.

However the confidence Santos — now aged 65 — had ingrained in his gamers finally shone by.

“Clearly (Ronaldo) is the very best on the planet,” says Fonte. “Having the very best on the planet in your group, you recognize you are at all times going to be harmful; you are at all times going to create conditions and you recognize you may win video games.

“We simply thought that we will beat anybody with him on the pitch. Portugal has loads of good particular person gamers, however we’re stronger due to our group spirit, our group, our supervisor.

“When Fernando Santos took over, I feel that was a change in mentality. His perception in us, perception within the group, it actually made us assume that we may do it because the starting.”

Fernando Santos (left) and Cristiano Ronaldo return to Lisbon with the European championship trophy.

Studying to ‘undergo’

It was with that perception and unflinching willpower that Portugal navigated its path to European success.

After scraping by to the knockout rounds by drawing each sport within the group phases, Santos’ facet then secured two extra-time victories — towards Croatia within the spherical of 16 and France within the ultimate — and got here from behind to attract with Poland within the quarters earlier than progressing on penalties.

To say Portugal needed to struggle and scrap for the title could be an understatement; no nation has ever been topped European champion whereas successful only one sport in regulation time.

“I feel to have the ability to win you want to have the ability to undergo and our group was excellent at that,” says Arsenal’s Soares, who, like his defensive associate Fonte, performed all through the knockout phases.

“Soccer is made of those moments. When you’re not prepared to undergo you may’t win a soccer match. This match, we had troublesome moments however basically what comes out of it’s a lot greater.

“The video games had been turning into increasingly thrilling. We had been wanting ahead to the video games and this I feel made an enormous distinction. The way in which the group was collectively, not simply the beginning 11, it was everybody — you felt this large push from everybody.”

Pepe (left), Jose Fonte and Cristiano Ronaldo (right) celebrate victory over Poland in the quarterfinals of Euro 2016.

Wanting forward

Portugal’s title defence has been postponed till subsequent 12 months amid the coronavirus outbreak. Having claimed the inaugural Nations League title over Netherlands final 12 months, successful is turning into one thing of a behavior for Santos’ group.

Ronaldo shall be 36 when subsequent 12 months’s match comes round; it could be a document fifth European championship had been he to characteristic. Fonte, who performs for French membership Lille, turns 37 in December, whereas his central devensive associate Pepe can be in his late 30s and but to hold up his boots.

Whereas various gamers enter the twilight of their careers, the emergence of younger expertise, similar to 20-year-old Atletico Madrid ahead Joao Felix, ensures the squad maintains a mix of youth and expertise.

“Soccer goes very fast,” says Soares. “In fact, no person can delete what we did … however soccer is manufactured from moments and it passes actually shortly.

“I do not assume we should always have extra strain as a result of we gained the Euros however clearly individuals take a look at us with a distinct respect.

“I feel we personal this, and we have to present it once more.”

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