Cristiano Ronaldo dreaming as Portugal glory beckons

Lyon (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo hopes to fulfil a lifelong dream and lead Portugal to their first ever international tournament win by shocking hosts France or world champions Germany in Sunday’s Euro 2016 final.

Ronaldo equalled Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in European Championship finals matches by powering home the opener as Portugal overcame Wales 2-0 in Lyon on Wednesday to book their place in the final.

The Real Madrid star was on the losing side when Portugal lost their only previous final to Greece on home soil at Euro 2004.

However, victory in Paris on Sunday would cap a remarkable career already boasting three World Player of the Year awards and three Champions League wins.

“We are yet to win anything, but it is the final and I don’t think many people thought we would make it to the final,” said Ronaldo, who has now scored three goals at this year’s finals.

“We are there and that fills me with pride. Now we have to make this dream come true on Sunday.

“I have broken many records before and I am still breaking records for club and country, but that comes naturally and the most important thing is to reach the final.

“Me and the boys have always dreamed of being there. I have always dreamed of winning something for Portugal and now it is just one match away.

“Dreaming is free, so let’s continue to dream.”

The victory was Portugal’s first over 90 minutes in the whole competition.

Three draws were enough to see them sneak through the group stage in third place before they saw off Croatia and Poland in extra-time and on penalties respectively.

– ‘Marathon’ –

However, Ronaldo defended their route to the final, claiming the tournament was a “marathon” not a sprint and that they had timed their return to form to perfection.

And after landing the Champions League on penalties with Madrid in May, Ronaldo believes 2016 may be his lucky year.

“Personally speaking I am very happy. After winning the Champions League I believed in my heart we would go far in the Euros.

“Maybe it didn’t start as we wanted, but this is not a 100 metre dash, it is a marathon.”

Ronaldo’s header leaves him just one goal off tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann of France.

But he also hailed the impact of Nani — who also notched his third goal of the tournament — as well as 18-year-old wonderkid Renato Sanches and Ricardo Quaresma, who made match-winning contributions in the previous two rounds.

“When you think of Nani, Renato, Quaresma…it is a team effort.

“Today I was fortunate enough to score and I am happy because I helped Portugal qualify for the final.”

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said the final will be the highlight of his long career and that he will study Thursday’s other semi-final between France and Germany to discover the key to victory.

“The final on Sunday will be the highest point in my career,” said Santos, 61.

“It is my country, my flag, my fatherland, so from a personal point of view it is very important for me.

“Two very strong teams face off tomorrow. I will watch the game very attentively to analyse our opponent.

“We are in it to win it and I will set up the team with the best possible strategy.”

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