FOOTBALL: Tears of pain turned to tears of joy for superstar Cristiano Ronaldo as he watched his Portugal claim its first European Championship.
Ronaldo was stretchered from the Stade de France midway through the first half of the final against host nation France after earlier copping a heavy challenge from Dimitri Payet.
But he was back on the touchline as teammate Eder scored the winning goal with a 25m strike in extra-time.
Ronaldo’s departure had many Portuguese fans fearing the worst, but it galvanised his team.
“It was tough to lose our main man, the man who could at any moment score a goal,” Portugal centre-back and man of the match Pepe said.
“He could make the difference, but we were warriors on the pitch. We said we would win it for him and we managed to do that.
“We represented Portugal, a beautiful country of immigrants, and we represent every one of them. This goes out to them.”
Twelve years after he had been part of the Portugal team that lost the final 1-0 to Greece when host of Euro 2004, Ronaldo managed to hobble up on to the presentation stage to finally lift the trophy.
Portugal claimed the crown despite winning just one match inside 90 minutes – the 2-0 semi-final victory against Wales – for the entire tournament.
Manager Fernando Santos set his sights on winning Portugal’s first ever major title at Euro 2016 early last year.
“I’ve always told them we’ve got great talent but we need to fight more than our opponents, run more than them and be more concentrated than them. We have an amazing group. They’ve always believed what I told them: that we could win this.
“It’s hard to describe the players’ emotions – it’s incredible. Our skipper put in an immense effort; he has amazing team spirit.
“Twice he tried to get back on the pitch but him being there in the dressing room and on the bench was very important for us. He believed, just like myself, that tonight was our night.”
The result ended Portugal’s run of 10 straight defeats against France, which eliminated it in the semi-finals at Euro 1984, Euro 2000 and the 2006 World Cup.
France coach Didier Deschamps had hoped to lead his country to a fourth major tournament win, and third on home soil after Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup, when he was captain.
“The disappointment is there and it’s immense,” he told French television. “We’ve let a big chance to be champions pass us by. There are no words to describe this feeling.”