10th July 2016. The greatest European footballer of this generation, Cristiano Ronaldo will lead his Portugal team out against the host nation France in the finale of the UEFA Euro 2016. While France were always amongst the favorites thanks to the home ground advantage and some in-form players, Portugal have surprised everyone so far in the journey till the finals.
Many expected Portugal to struggle in a sticky group which is exactly how it turned out to be. With 3 draws in their 3 group fixtures, Ronaldo and his side nearly scrapped through thanks to the new format of UEFA that allowed 4 of the best 3rd placed teams to go through into a round of 16. Their luck though, did not end there. They saw off an in-form Croatia side and Poland after a big scare before securing their first win in normal time against Wales in the semi-finals. While many see their route to be lucky, it is an undeniable fact that Portugal have fought the hard way to beat all the odds to reach this far with some solid performances both physically and mentally. On the other hand, the hosts were expected to have a much tricky route but have fairly cruised into the finals with Griezmann, Pogba and Payet looking deadly as ever. So, after weeks of tough competition, we now have the two teams who will fight it out to be crowned the ‘Champions of Europe’.
France, the host nation are indeed the team in form. They also have the top-scorer in the tournament Antoinne Griezmann and a line-up of strong in-form talents. However, even with all these factors, the spotlight is not completely on them because on the other side, we have a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese superstar has already conquered a host of records in his career and is closing in on another one as his next goal would make him the highest goal-scorer in Euros. Ronaldo is currently at par with the former french sensation Michel Platini with 9 goals. The grand stage is set for him to beat the Frenchman’s record as his side has an appointment with the France team themselves in Stade de France in what could be one of his biggest European nights. As we build up to the finale, it is certainly a sure thing that a similar European finals night comes to every one of our minds.
The date was 4th July 2004. The venue Estadio de Luz, the fortress for the host side Portugal. Luiz Felipe Scolari led an in-form Portugal side in the finals against unlikely opponents Greece. While many were ready with their celebration plans, Greece had a plan of their own as they repeated the result of the inaugural game of the tournament and beat Portugal 1-0 to be crowned the European champions. The joy, excitement and hope was replaced by shock and tears for the whole of Portugal. The home side had the likes of the legendary Luis Figo and Rui Costa along with a more recently established star in Deco. Sharing the grief with tears of disappointment was a young winger who was quickly earning praises with Manchester United in England and for Portugal. Sporting his No.17 jersey, the image of Cristiano in tears after the shock defeat to Greece is something his fans and football fans around the world would never forget in a hurry.
Those tears marked the hopes of a youngster who wanted to be the best and the champion of the continent at an age of 19. But now, the stage has changed. He will lead his nation out shouldering the responsibility of the whole nation. The 19 year old show-stopper who was a box of tricks and pace has evolved into one of the best footballers of this generations and probably one of the greatest ever. As he has conquered almost every individual feat and club honors, the one thing that is missing from his trophy cabinet is one for his national side. Cristiano Ronaldo would know this is a great chance to end that long wait for international recognition.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 2 goals and was an instrumental figure for the Portuguese side as he earned his name in the team of the tournament in the 2004 edition. Ronaldo has already scored 3 goals in this tournament, and although he has not taken the tournament over with his performance, he was well and truly back in the groove with his performance against Wales in the semi-finals.
A more closer look at the two teams will bring out some more interesting resemblances. The 2004 finals was between the host nation who were in red hot form and were the firm favourites and a side that frustrated their opponents and earned their place in the finals against all odds. 2016 finals also give us a similar picture. A host nation in prime form, against a team that has beaten all the odds and have even frustrated their opponents in their route to the finals. Cristiano Ronaldo and his side will be hoping to do what Greece did to them in the 2004 edition. However, even though players such as Nani and Renato Sanchez have put in solid performances, even the French would know that taming Cristiano Ronaldo would mean a great deal and will be a deciding factor in the finals. While many believe that Portugal have dragged themselves into the finals, Cristiano Ronaldo will play a huge role in dragging them over the line. Cristiano Ronaldo himself has said that the scene will be different from the last time he stepped out for the finals.
However, stopping the likes of Griezmann,Payet and Pogba who have trouble almost all the teams will be a very tough task for the Portuguese line-up. Portugal have then gone on to be knocked out in the quarter finals and the semi-finals in the editions after their heart-breaking 2004 adventure. They have gone a step further this year and will be hoping to go all the way to the crown this time around. The hosts France have a very impressive record against Portugal. Portugal have not beaten France since 1975. A run of 10 games without a win. But a win against them this time would been a place in the history books for the whole team as they look to end their quest for a major trophy.
Ronaldo has not been on a scoring spree as he does for his club side but the forward has been in the thick of action. He has racked up a total of 44 shots among which 27 has been from outside the box. He also has 2 assists so far in the tournament along with his 3 goals. However, his conversion rate from freekick situations has been a cause for concern.
There is no denying the fact that France walk into the game as firm favourites. But Ronaldo and his boys have enough potential to pull off a memorable night in the history of Portuguese football. He has achieved a lot and has made everyone stand in awe with his performances. The stage indeed is set for a classic. Can CR7 drag his side again to paint the Eiffel in Portuguese colors? We will wait and watch.