Lisbon: After a night of rowdy celebrations Portugal’s European champions led by Cristiano Ronaldo returned home to a heroes’ welcome on Monday and a country overjoyed by their upset win over France.
Tens of thousands of fans took over the streets of Lisbon waving red and green national flags to mark the historic victory set up by substitute Eder’s extra-time goal that stunned the host country on Sunday night in the final of Euro 2016.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa with the winning team during a reception in Lisbon. The squad returned home to a heroes’ welcome with tens of thousands of fans cheering them. Reuters
Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo, who was stretchered off injured and crying early in the game, hugged the trophy on the special flight that took the Portuguese team home. The plane was named after the late, great Portuguese striker Eusebio.
Two fire trucks sprayed jets of water in green and red over the plane as it taxied to the airport terminal.
Thousands of fans waited to greet the team who won Portugal’s first international trophy.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said he would honour them with an award for distinguished acts of public service.
“I have to praise everyone. I will commemorate them with the Order of Merit of Commanders — that is a decree that has never been given to the national team,” he told broadcaster RTP.
Ronaldo 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.”
The victory marks a healing of sorts for Portugal after their shock defeat in the Euro 2004 final when they lost 1-0 to unfancied Greece on home turf.
Luis Figo, who captained Portugal in that agonising defeat in Lisbon 12 years ago, congratulated the team on Twitter.
“CHAMPIONS! The greatest! Congratulations!” the former Inter Milan, Real and Barcelona star wrote.
Portugal’s sports press hailed the team with headlines including “Epic”, “Eternal” and “Pride of Portugal”.
Former Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who lost to Greece in the 2004 final, showered praise on the players.
“Portugal had deserved this European champion title since 2004. Last night, Portugal was able to get back the title that we lost in 2004,” he told Sport TV.
Portugal’s coach Santos and the other players paid tribute to Ronaldo’s role in urging the team not to give up.
Ronaldo returned from treatment, his knee heavily strapped and limping, at the end of 90 minutes to give pep talks to his teammates - earning ridicule on Twitter from observers who said he was trying to be the coach.
Ronaldo’s tears of pain and anguish as he was carried off turned to tears of joy at the final whistle.
Shrugging off his injured knee, the forward danced past reporters with other Portugal players as they left the stadium.
Despite the huge disappointment, Didier Deschamps said he will remain as coach of France and lead them into the looming 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
“The disappointment is there and it’s immense,” Deschamps said after the 1-0 defeat on Sunday. “We’ve let a big chance to be champions pass us by.”
But of his contract, which runs through the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he added:
“It is lined up like that. I am not going to think about myself.
“I will need time to digest everything. The players are going to start again at their clubs. I am going to analyse things with my staff and we will start again on what is waiting for us in two years.”
There was some consolation for France after Uefa named French forward and tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann as the best player of Euro 2016.
“Antoine Griezmann was a threat in every game he played. He works hard for his team and possesses technique, vision and quality finishing,” said Uefa chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu, who led the panel that picked the striker.
France spent 450 million euros (Dh1.8 billion) preparing 10 stadiums for Euro 2016, which could be the last hosted in one country. Euro 2020, the 16th tournament, will be held in 13 cities in 13 different countries from Azerbaijan to Wales.