‘This is for all Portuguese and all immigrants,’ says Ronaldo after Euro 2016 triumph
Man of the match Pepe pays tribute to team’s inspirational talisman who was forced off by injury
Star striker Cristiano Ronaldo devoted Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph over France on Sunday to “all Portuguese and all immigrants”.
Ronaldo said he found it impossible to come back after being injured in the Paris final which Portugal won 1-0.
“I tried to come back. My knee was swelling up and I couldn’t. There was too much pain.
“It was not the final I wanted but I am very happy. It is a trophy for all Portuguese, for all immigrants, all the people who believed in us so I am very happy and very proud.”
About 1.2 million Portuguese nationals and Portuguese-origin French live in France, according to Portuguese authorities.
Portugal’s man of the match, Pepe, said that his team had been inspired after talisman Ronaldo was forced off.
“It was tough to lose our main man, the man who could at any moment score a goal,” said Pepe, who overcame a thigh injury to play at Stade de France.
“He could make the difference, but we were warriors on the pitch. We said we would win it for him and we managed to do that.”
Cristiano Ronaldo hugs coach Fernando Santos. Photo: EPA
Portugal rode their luck at times, notably when France substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post in stoppage time, but hit the woodwork themselves in extra-time through Raphael Guerreiro’s free-kick.
“There was a lot of suffering. It was a very intense game,” added Pepe, who won the Champions League alongside Ronaldo with Madrid in May.
“We fought very hard. We had to work very hard and be more humble than the other team. We left it all out there. It’s the only way to win.
“We represented Portugal, a beautiful country of immigrants, and we represent every one of them. This goes out to them.”
Emotional Portugal coach Fernando Santos praised Ronaldo’s motivational powers and said criticism of Pepe was unjustified.
“Our captain made a fantastic effort during this competition, he was criticised many times but he showed a fantastic team spirit,” Santos said.
“Twice, he tried everything that was humanly possible to get back into the game but it wasn’t possible.
“His presence in the changing-room was really important thanks to the way in which he supported me and he said it was our day ... he believed as much as I did that it was our day.”
Santos insisted Pepe’s reputation as one of the hard men of world football was misplaced.
“I don’t understand what people mean when they talk about a bad guy. When you say that about Pepe, it makes no sense,” he said. “He has a lot passion; he puts it all on the pitch.
Central defender Pepe, often cast as the pantomime villain after several unsavoury incidents in his career, was outstanding throughout the tournament.
“Pepe is a player with enormous passion, he gives everything during a game,” Santos said.
“What is said about him is not really correct, I think he has picked up a reputation that he will struggle to get rid off but happily he is a champion of Europe.”
Additional reporting Reuters