Euro 2016 | The sidelined icon

Twist of fate turns Ron's pain to tears of joy

Carried off injured, his half-time pep talk and gestures spur team to stunning win

PARIS • Cristiano Ronaldo was crying, his chest heaving, his knee throbbing, his heart aching like never before.

Ronaldo, prone on the turf, sat up slowly and did what he surely never imagined having to do in a game like this: He wrapped his captain's armband around Luis Nani as his eyes clouded over. Then he lay back, shimmied onto a stretcher and was carried to the locker room.

That instant, just 24 minutes into the Euro 2016 final, felt momentous. One of the biggest stars in the sport going off after less than half an hour? It was the sort of twist that can - that should - define an entire match.

And it did. Ronaldo cried again when the whistle blew after 120 minutes of the final. This time it was in sheer joyous delirium, as his team-mates - under his vociferous and theatrical urging from the sidelines - somehow eked out a 1-0 extra-time victory over France to claim their first major football title.

"Today I felt sadness and happiness. I was injured but I always believed that these players, together with the strategy, would be strong enough to beat France," said Ronaldo, who later, despite his injury, danced his way through the mixed zone with several team-mates, without stopping for waiting reporters.


Cristiano Ronaldo is carried off the pitch after being injured. His impromptu role as assistant manager during extra time was a sight to behold. PHOTO: REUTERS

NOTHING LEFT IN THE TANK

It was a very intense game. We fought very hard. We had to work very hard and be more humble than the other team. We left it all out there. It's the only way to win.

PEPE, on their shock upset of hosts France in the final.

"What I can say is that it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I always said I'd like to win something with Portugal. For me this is an amazing unique moment for all Portuguese."

Even when he is sidelined with crippling injury, Ronaldo has still managed to influence the game, as his team-mates spoke of his fierce half-time motivational talk which spurred them on to fend off the French waves of attacks in the second half.

"It was a very tough moment (when he went down)," full-back Cedric Soares told Soccernet.com. "I remember, for me and the team, everybody was a little bit in shock.

"But at half-time, Cristiano had fantastic words for us. He gave us a lot of confidence and said, 'Listen people, I'm sure we will win, so stay together and fight for it.' It was really unbelievable.

"He always had a lot of motivational words and all the team of course reacted to them, so it was very good."

When Ronaldo returned from the dressing room to the sidelines after 90 minutes, he immediately assumed the role of an assistant manager, gesturing animatedly at his tiring team-mates to keep going.

When Raphael Guerreiro went down with cramp, it was Ronaldo who hobbled down to encourage him to keep playing. No substituted player has ever looked more invested in the game than Ronaldo did in this final.

It was an inspirational response to his own misfortune, and it rubbed off on each of his team-mates.

  • 120 MINUTES OF DRAMA

    Start


    Leading Portugal out with French counterpart Hugo Lloris.

    8th


    Fears the worst after knocking knees with Dimitri Payet.

    18th


    In tears, but is able to walk off and receive treatment for a second time.

    24th


    Throws armband onto the ground in anger before handing it to Nani.


    Tragedy as he tearfully gets on the stretcher and is carried off.

    90th


    Reappears with his left knee strapped, limps out to motivate his team.

    109th


    Tears well up again as Eder stuns France in their Theatre of Dreams.


    Upstages his manager in extra time as he yells instructions like a boss on the sideline.

    120th


    Catharsis as the final whistle goes.


    Rips off his top as the celebrations begin.


    Pure joy as he lifts the trophy - Ronaldo 1 Messi 0.

    The end


    Reality bites as he savours his winners' medal.

"It was tough to lose our main man, the man who could at any moment score a goal," said Pepe, Ronaldo's club mate at Real Madrid.

"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.

"There was a lot of suffering. It was a very intense game. We fought very hard. We had to work very hard and be more humble than the other team. We left it all out there. It's the only way to win."

Ronaldo might have hoped to score a hat-trick in the final, but when that was impossible, to his credit, he still found a way to make his dreams real.

"I tried to come back. My knee was swelling up and I couldn't. There was too much pain," he said.

"It was not the final I wanted but I am very happy. It is a trophy for all Portuguese, for all immigrants, all the people who believed in us so I am very happy and very proud."

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Twist of fate turns Ron's pain to tears of joy'. Print Edition | Subscribe