No Ronaldo? No problem. A Ronaldo-less team showed the world what being Portuguese is all about. On the sideline Ronaldo showed, again, the true leader he is. And all over the world, the Portuguese felt as proud as ever of being born in this beautiful country.
When asked what yesterday’s win meant to him, José Silva, a Portuguese construction worker who lives in Paris, could only come up with three words before bursting into tears again: “My whole life”. The type of statement, that when the euphoria settles, can be easily mistaken for a cliché, right? The type of statement that makes the more cynical ones twist a bit in the sofa. Well, not this time. Not on this day. Today José Silva feels that all the hard work he has done, all the sacrifices, all the kilometres he has driven between France and his beloved Portugal, they were all worth it.
José Silva is one of more than half a million Portuguese who live in France. Who half a century ago decided to look for a better life abroad, and found in France a place to live and work, so that every year he can spend the month of August in his hometown. So that, when the time comes, he can move back to Trás-os-Montes or to Beira and spend his twilight years in the small village he was born in.
José Silva is representative of the 2.3 million Portuguese who live outside of their homeland, and find in the Portuguese National team the simplest and most rewarding way of showing pride in their country. He cannot find the words, and cannot fight the tears because he saw his home team travel to the country where he now lives and also calls “home”, and do what he had only dreamt until now. José Silva is a European Champion, but he can’t really understand it just yet. It’s a new feeling, and like all new feelings, it takes time to adjust to.
As I write these lines, the plane carrying the Portugal squad has just landed in Lisbon. Next door to where the players will descend and step onto homesoil as European Champions for the first time, a picture of Eusébio reminds everyone of his undying presence. That presence was felt the day before, when Ronaldo was being carried off the field. As Ronaldo cried, we saw Eusebio crying 50 years ago, after losing the semi final in 1966 to England – the hometeam, again.
Last night’s game had a succession of parallels with past tournaments. With past experiences gone wrong. The feeling was that we were watching a movie for the second time. For the third time. In Ronaldo’s tears, we saw Eusébio’s. In the historic Éder’s strike we saw a Nuno Gomes similar strike in the semi finals in 2000, when for, an instant, we were able to shake the confidence of Zidane’s France before they added the European Championships to the their World title.
In our historic win, we saw, of course, Greece’s win in our home, in 2004. We saw the despair in the French eyes in Stade de France when Éder put all his strength in that wonderful strike that beat Hugo Lloris. We have felt it. We can still feel it! We know the feeling of losing. It’s this feeling of winning that it’s taking some time to get used to. But I think we’ll manage. After all, we are Portuguese. And we are Champions of Europe!