From Rags to Ritches: Portugal’s EURO 2016 Success and why/how it happened
Set the scene; July 10th, 2016: The remaining French fans in the Stade de France watch the trophy ceremony for the European Championship of soccer only to see that the away team with arguably the best player in the world (Cristiano Ronaldo) lift the trophy that a once destined soccer powerhouse had been destined to win for years upon years. 2016 was Portugal’s year. They had been through a lot to get to this point not only as a soccer team but as a nation all together. Most fans of the country can remember the times of great players such as Luis Figo and Deco, but were never able to obtain success even with a “golden generation” playing on the field. So why this team? What was so great about this team that allowed them to get their first international trophy? Only time would tell when you had one of the world’s greatest players and an experienced coaching staff that brought a lot to the table
Portugal was a team that usually impressed most people on the international stage but as usual failed to achieve the results required to become a true soccer power of the world. It really all dates back to the 2002 FIFA World Cup where shitty officiating (most likely to do with the scandal at the time) really put a damper on the true potential of the team. The team didn’t even make it past the group stage that year. That being said, that was all put aside because Portugal was about to host UEFA Euro 2004 in a tournament which Portugal were deemed heavy favorites. With this tag bestowed upon them, Portugal met those expectations by reaching the final before eventually falling to Greece in the Estádio dá Luz in Lisbon. At this point we would see a young Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrate his true colors and demonstrate a hunger that would soon be relieved 12 years later. Eventually Portugal pulled off stellar performances in the 2006 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2012 by reaching the semi-finals narrowly missing out again. All the heartbreak and anguish was used as a bit of motivation to strive for success, a success that came in the form of a trophy on a beautiful night in Paris. The fact that they had experienced what France did in terms of hosting the tournament allowed them to play the part that Greece did back in 2004 and spoil the party for the home support
CRISTIANO RONALDO & HIS TEAMMATES
Arguably Portugal’s success came in the form of superstar talent Cristiano Ronaldo. The world’s best player in 2016 was a big part in getting Portugal into the final, but didn’t play much of the final himself due to a crunching tackle by French midfielder Dimitri Payet who forced Ronaldo off the field with an injury. You could see that Ronaldo was truly devastated as he was crying coming off on a stretcher. He had been waiting for this moment his whole life and it abruptly came to an end. However, Portugal’s response to this was professional and determined as they forced the hosts France to extra-time which allowed substitute Éder to score the game winning goal. The team played as a unit and used Ronaldo as their source of motivation to win the game for him for he had done so much for them as their captain.
In a sense, UEFA did somehow manage to “gift” this trophy to Portugal. No they didn’t pay the refs to let Portugal win, but UEFA did change the qualification system by allowing the 4 best 3rd place teams to move on to the knockout rounds. Portugal used this to their advantage by placing third in their group which allowed them to play in an easier side of the bracket and eventually easing their way into the final. It wasn’t stunning but all that matters is that it worked
THE COACHING STAFF
All great teams that win championships are usually the defining moments that make up a coaches résumé. Well Fernando Santos was a bit far off from that but due to the situation he was thrown into, he did what was considered an outstanding achievement. Santos was hired after the federation fired Paulo Bento due to an opening Euro 2016 qualifying match loss at home against lowly Albania. Since that game, Santos never lost a qualifier and stayed undefeated throughout the rest of the tournament. Fernando Santos was considered for Coach of the Year honors by FIFA and rightly so considering he brought a mediocre team to championship success.
Let’s be very honest here, this Portugal team wasn’t supposed to win the 2016 UEFA European Championship. There have been better Portugal teams in the past with star talent in all respective positions of the field. However it was the determination and smart tactics of an experienced coach who incorporated all 23 players that were included in the team roster to guide a struggling soccer power to the holy grail. This was the moment that finally proved that if you play smart, you can win games. Portugal knew that the odds were stacked against them, but they conquered those odds and relieved years of heartache that the Portuguese people have had to endure for years on end. The tears of joy that Ronaldo and all of those players shed, were shed by the Portuguese people (including my family and I) who followed that team throughout the whole tournament. Forget what the commentators and pundits say, Portugal were deserved victors at the end of the day.