Article by Luis Pinto
Nil-Nil is a column dedicated to football in China and around the world.
The Euro 2016 is over, Portugal is the champion. France felt the sour taste of defeat at home just like Portugal had felt in 2004 against Greece. The curse of playing at home strikes again, but don´t worry France, next final that you qualify for you will win the Euro! History says so! All home teams that were defeated in the Euro won the next final they played in; hopefully it will be less than the twelve years that Portugal had to wait.
Is Portugal the fair winner of this Euro? Well, opinions are divided but the reality is that it doesn’t matter because they won it with their own efforts, no controversial referee calls or a lucky penalties shootout. Now the bragging rights belong to them and all the Portuguese around the world for the next four years. As a Portuguese I am happy, but as a coach I can say that Portugal was very lucky!
Portugal was lucky because Iceland won their last game against Austria with a goal on the 94th minute by Traustanson. This result sent Portugal to the side of the bracket that had the most accessible teams, Croatia, Poland and Wales. We can say that Portugal not winning any games in the group stage was very unlucky; they always played offensively and had the most shots on target from all the teams in the Euro but it was clear that lady luck was not with them at that time. Portuguese coach Fernando Santos was asked after qualifying if Portugal could win the Euro with no wins and he joked that nothing would make him happier. Portugal started playing much more defensively in the next games; the game against Croatia was a defensive master piece, in which they effectively nullified all the key Croatian players and counterattacked. The balance was broken after a lucky rebound from the post to a lightning fast counterattack to a Quaresma goal at the 117th minute.
Poland was next and once again the vision of Coach Fernando Santos was on point. The decision to start young midfielder Renato Sanches was more offensive than the previous game. Poland scored their early goal and Portugal had a more offensive team that was able to score still in the first part of the game. Then both teams played defensively and the penalty shootout went in Portugal’s favor, with a wonderful save from Rui Patricio and Quaresma scoring the decisive goal.
Wales against Portugal was a media circus of “Bale vs Ronaldo” but Coach didn’t mind the media and put an offensive team in the pitch and the result was clear at the end of the 90 minutes with the first and only game to be won in the regular 90 minutes from the Portuguese team. So now everyone was disappointed, Portugal finally won a game in the regular time so the streak of ties wouldn’t “save” Portugal in the Final against France. France had won the game against Germany and was now the absolute favorite to win the Euro.
However, the new Euro format had other teams showing off, for example, Northern Ireland was showing off their quality in the pitch and their fans showing off outside the pitch! Of course Wales was the biggest surprise and they left the Euro with their heads raised proudly. Iceland and Hungary also showed the world that they have quality in their ranks. More importantly, their results will help boost the football development in their countries and I´m sure we will see many more amazing feats from these countries in the future.
In the final, the Portuguese loaded up with their national team shirts, the scarf and praying beads, ready to pray, scream and cry. We hadn´t beaten France in a major competition before, France was playing at home and everyone was saying that France would win easily. Despite everything, we were still praying to God and Ronaldo for a win. Me and my Portuguese friends in China waited impatiently for 3AM to come to see the game, eating, drinking, praying. In this long wait we talked, discussed every detail about the game, the previous games, talk and wait, wait and talk.
The game starts! The first few minutes we shout, go Portugal! Toast and drink a little more to calm our nerves. Ronaldo is out, injured. People cry, Ronaldo is crying in the stadium. The new captain is Nani and I see the fire in his eyes, all Portuguese see the team talking to each other, the rage for this unfair situation replaces the nervous feelings and the team becomes one. We start to believe once again and the game continues. First half is over, Portugal defended well; France was pushing us but we are united and they can´t break our defensive strategy. Second half and Coach Fernando Santos changes Adrien for Moutinho in order to keep pressure and the midfield capable of stopping the France players from moving forward. Then at the 79th minute another change, Eder? for Renato Sanches. Coach Fernando Santos replaces a midfielder for a striker, everyone was surprised! We discuss, “coach wants to keep the French defense occupied with a big man” someone said “It´s also good to defend the corner kicks because he´s taller.” We all couldn’t imagine what would happen.
Game over, extra time and Portugal is still unbeaten, the defensive sector is working well, the goalkeeper is amazing today, and we start to believe. We truly believe we can beat France. The 1st half of extra time was an all out attack from France but Portugal held on. I see Pepe puking in the field; the warriors are putting everything they have into this game. Second half of extra time, France pushed for a goal but there was a free kick for Portugal. We all pray for a miracle, but the ball hits the crossbar! Then we see Moutinho fighting for the ball in the midfield, he wins the ball, gritting his teeth and moving the ball forward away from the Portuguese defense. Moutinho passed to William Carvalho, William to Quaresma, Quaresma to Moutinho, Moutinho to Eder…and he SCORES! People jump from their seats, everyone is screaming and jumping, hugging the person next to them, crying from happiness.
Portugal is the European Champion. It seems like a dream: finally all the hard work, the years and years of studying football, teaching and working to improving our football paid off! Portugal now has the three best players in the world. Ronaldo for Football, Ricardinho for Futsal and Madjer for beach football. Portugal now has a Coach that is the European Champion, we have the Coach Mourinho that is the best in the world. All of this rushes in my mind and I call my family at home, I want to celebrate with them but I can´t. It´s 6 a.m. and i´m in China working hard everyday so that one day hopefully my Chinese players, friends and everyone else can feel the same as me in that moment. One day China will be Champion too and I will be right here celebration with all of you!
I have been in China on and off since 2007 and I have always told everyone that football is a huge market and that the Chinese education system could support a stable development of Chinese football with a model like the American model of competition between schools, divided by regions. Every school has the infrastructure to start local and national competitions. I believe it can be done, if we can all work together to learn about football and to teach it to the children then they will be the future of a new Chinese football! Luisp1nt0@hotmail.com