Painful lesson of 2004 can be inspiration for Portugal

Paris (AFP) – Portugal may have experience of a European Championship final, but Sunday’s Euro 2016 showpiece against France will be a role reversal for them.

Cristiano Ronaldo was a teenager when Portugual, with Luis Figo as their talisman, suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Greece before a disbelieving crowd in Lisbon in the Euro 2004 final.

Twelve years on, Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo and veteran centre-back Ricardo Carvalho are the only survivors in the Portuguese squad from that game as they prepare to face the hosts for the Euro 2016 title at the Stade de France.

Just like Greece in 2004, Portugal have not won too many admirers with their performances in France. They failed to win a game in 90 minutes before defeating Wales 2-0 in the semi-finals.

However, they now have a glorious chance to follow in the footsteps of that Greek side by beating France in the final and spoiling the home party.

Coach Fernando Santos knows that France are under pressure to win the trophy on home soil, just as they did at the 1984 Euros and at the 1998 World Cup. But he expects them to cope with that better than Portugal did more than a decade ago.

“There is pressure. We have that experience from 2004. But the France players are playing at home and they’re very experienced,” Santos told reporters at the Stade de France on Saturday. 

“Their players play in the best teams and they are used to very intense games. Some of them played in the Champions League final. 

“They are very experienced and Didier Deschamps is a very experienced manager. I’m sure Didier is taking care of that. All I do is think of how my players will play and I want them to play their best in order to win.”

A tearful Ronaldo and his distraught team-mates were stunned by their failure in that final and must have wondered if they would ever get so close to major tournament glory again.

– ‘We suffered’ –

Santos himself covered that game as a pundit for Portuguese television, something he was quick to remind one reporter when asked what his memories of that night were.

“I was with you, on air! I think I was with you. We were doing commentary on that game,” said Santos, a former coach of Greece. 

“It was a very important game for us. We were playing at home and we suffered a lot.

“But it’s one thing being a commentator — it’s entirely different to be on the pitch and lead the team. 

“Now I have to motivate the team, but my brain has to keep going because we have to find solutions. I’m still a fan of Portugal and I want us to win, but I have to be clear-headed enough to get us there.”

In 2004 Portugal recovered from losing to Greece in the tournament’s opening game to knock out Spain, England and the Netherlands en route to the final.

But against a workmanlike Greek side they stumbled at the crucial moment and Carvalho admitted this week that the Selecao were “never comfortable” when it came to the crunch match.

They now hope to emulate Greece and leave the French in a state of shock.

“I’d like that. That would be amazing,” said Portugal’s Brazilian-born defender Pepe on Saturday. 

“But it’s apples and oranges. Twelve years have gone by and tomorrow is a totally different kettle of fish. I hope we follow the manager’s orders to achieve our goal.”

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