All hail the conquering heroes: why Portugal’s Euro 2016 win is sweet relief for a country with plenty of problems
Cristiano Ronaldo and co feted as they return with the trophy
After a night of rowdy celebrations Portugal’s European champions led by Cristiano Ronaldo returned home to a heroes’ welcome and a country overjoyed by their upset win over France.
Tens of thousands of fans took over the streets of Lisbon waving red and green national flags to mark the historic victory set up by substitute Eder’s extra-time goal that stunned the hosts on Sunday night in the Euro 2016 final at the Stade de France.
Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo, who was stretchered off injured and crying early, hugged the trophy on the special flight that took the Portuguese team home.
Two fire trucks sprayed jets of water in green and red over the plane as it taxied to the airport terminal.
“We haven’t slept much, this is our first victory, we had to be here,” said one fan, 21-year-old student Antonio Ribeiro de Magalhaes.
With man-of-the-match defender Pepe carrying the prize down the steps the 23-man squad boarded an open-top bus marked ‘Champions’ for a victory parade.
“We’ve entered into the history of Portugal, thank you for everything,” triple world footballer of the year Ronaldo shouted to fans.
“This triumph doesn’t solve our problems but at least it’s making us happy,” said Lucia Antunes, a 41-year-old unemployed woman, alluding to Portugal’s struggle with an economic crisis and austerity.
“This is something that only happens once in a lifetime,” he added.
The team were received by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, with Ronaldo brandishing the trophy from the balcony of the presidential palace.
“You are the best in Europe!” the head of state told the victorious team, decorating them with Commander of Order of Merit medals.
“You have given an example by winning courtesy of your courage, determination and humility,” he added.
A disconsolate France also went to meet their country’s leader. In stark contrast, President Francois Hollande could only offer commiseration at a sombre official lunch.
An open-top bus planned for a Paris victory parade was sent back to the depot as French football chiefs started a what-went-wrong inquiry.
Neither country could barely believe the result.
Portugal’s dreams of lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy looked to have taken a shattering blow when Ronaldo, their captain and talisman, fell to the ground in agony in the eighth minute following a clattering challenge from Dimitri Payet.
After twice going off for treatment and trying to come back, Ronaldo was definitively carried off, covering his face as the tears welled up.
“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,” Ronaldo said.
The victory marks a healing of sorts for Portugal after their shock defeat in the Euro 2004 final when they lost 1-0 to unfancied Greece on home turf.
Portugal’s sports press hailed the team with headlines including “Epic”, “Eternal” and “Pride of Portugal”.
Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos and the other players paid tribute to Ronaldo’s role in urging the team not to give up.
Ronaldo returned from treatment, his knee heavily strapped and limping, at the end of 90 minutes to give pep talks to his team-mates -- earning ridicule on Twitter from observers who said he was trying to be the coach.
Eder, who plays for French side Lille and only went on in the 79th minute, was having none of it: “He told me I was going to score the winning goal. He gave me strength and positive energy.”