First, there was Eusebio. Later, much later, came Cristiano Ronaldo. In between, there was a long line of brilliant football players, who were supposed to carry the national team of Portugal to not only magnificent and exciting style of football, but also to collect some titles. Truth to be said, Eusebio was everything everyone in Portugal expected him to be, and then some more, but even he couldn’t deliver that missing link – an international title for the national team and his adopted country. But how can one say a word about the player who has almost single handedly transformed football in Portugal?
In 2016, it has all ended. The waiting, the anticipation, the losers tag, the frustration, the brilliant players who couldn't win when it mattered most, and most of all, memories of the Euro it had hosted and failed so miserably. In Euro 2016, Portugal's national team finally stood on the winner's podium and got its gold.
Portugal first qualified for the FIFA 1966 World Cup in England, introducing a new and bright phenomenon. They called him the "Black Panther". He came from Portugal's colony of Mozambique and had it all – speed, superior technique, and most of all – the ability to score goals. Eusebio first announced his arrival when, in his second season at Benfica, he was runner-up for the Ballon d'Or, given to the European Footballer of the Year. He won the award in 1965, and a year later took Portugal all the way to a 3rd place in the world cup, being named the tournament's top goal scorer with 9 goals (scoring 4 in one game against North Korea). But even Eusebio couldn't win it all for Portugal.
Bare a group-stage exit in the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, Portugal's absence from the big tournament was extremely long, as it didn't qualify for the tournament until 2002. Not even the group of players who were termed the "Golden Generation" of the late 80's and early 90's - including Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto and Joao Pinto, which have won two successive FIFA World Cup Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991 - couldn't carry Portugal above the huddle.
Portugal returned to world cup competition in 2002 and exited it after the group stage. In 2004, it hosted the Euro and was the leading favorite to win it all, until a 0-1 loss to Greece in the final.
The Golden generation has come and gone, but Portugal hasn't won any major tournament. Until came Ronaldo. And even he had to mature and wait almost to a last-minute opportunity. Portugal was not the front runner to win the 2016 Euro in France, who was the host country and had a good record of winning tournaments on its home soil. Ronaldo came into the tournament carrying a nagging injury he carried from the end stages of the Spanish La Liga, playing for Real Madrid. Portugal did not impress during the early stages, advancing from the group stage without winning a game. But it kept going. A 2-0 win over tournament surprise Wales in the semi-finals matched Portugal in the final against heavy favorite France. It didn't start well and then it got worse, as Ronaldo limped off the field due to injury. The match went into extra time, where Eder scored the only goal, sending the whole country of Portugal into a frenzy celebration, that lasted for days.
Ronaldo is both the leading scorer of the national team, with 79 goals, and the most caped player, with 147 appearances. The great Eusabio is 3rd on the list, with 41 goals scored.
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