Stricken Ronaldo rejoices in Portugal glory


HIGHLIGHTS + REPORT: Portugal v France

There is evidently something about major finals at Stade de France and superstars called Ronaldo that does not sit right.

After suffering a seizure on the day of the game, Brazil striker Ronaldo was omitted and then mysteriously included in the line-up for the 1998 FIFA World Cup final against France.

Of course, the side captained by Didier Deschamps made history that night — Zinedine Zidane netting brace as a nation united to celebrate the achievements of the Black-Blanc-Beur generation. Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure as France ran out a 3-0 winner over the favourite.

There was no such initial drama back at the same venue on Monday (AEST) 18 years on, with Deschamps now in his team's dugout for the UEFA Euro 2016 final between France and Portugal.

Cristiano Ronaldo would captain Portugal and serve as the main threat for the underdog. After eight minutes, everything changed.

Dimitri Payet, the West Ham United playmaker and hardly a noted hatchet man, played the ball but arrived a touch late to the challenge, resulting in a painful impact on the follow-through for Ronaldo.

The three-time Ballon d'Or winner writhed and banged the turf. The Parisians howled and booed. They had seen this act before, not least at this tournament when Ronaldo has often carried the demeanour and composure of a boiling kettle.

He returned to the fray as expected, but was soon in tears and requiring more treatment.

Ronaldo bravely gave it one more go, but he laboured on a Portugal counter-attack, failed to jump for a header and tore off his armband. At that moment, the prospect of hoisting his country's maiden international honour seemed another lifetime, not a couple of hours, away.

This is where Deschamps the coach will have been frustrated by the ruthlessness Deschamps the player enjoyed among his colleagues a generation ago. As a pallid, listless version of the Brazilian Ronaldo toiled in Saint-Denis, France was rampant. But here, Deschamps's men looked like a team that could not believe its luck rather than one determined to capitalise upon it as Portugal ended the first half comfortably.

The exception for the home side was Moussa Sissoko, who relentlessly followed snapping interceptions with driving runs, performing as if someone had taken him aside beforehand to explain this was going to be the last game of football in the world.

After the ignominy of suffering relegation with Newcastle United, Sissoko was a surprise inclusion in France's quarter-final XI which thrashed Iceland. In the final he played with the joy and abandon of a man taking a chance he never expected.

Around him, players who have been an integral part of two years building up to this moment appeared shackled by the weight of it all — even tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann, when he did not time his 65th-minute leap and headed a cross from substitute Kingsley Coman wastefully over.

Coman's introduction in place of Payet gave Sissoko an ally in fearless abandon and the latter's thunderous 84th-minute long-ranger would have been a worthy winning goal, but Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio turned in his best work of an impressive night.

He was helpless when Andre-Pierre Gignac's shot spun back off his near post although, as moths made merry around Stade de France, Les Bleus were now tangled in the web of extra-time with Portugal's draw specialists.

Minister for the Distribution of Dark Arts, Pepe, almost headed them in front early in the additional period and France would not emerge unscathed, staggering punch-drunk towards the final whistle after unlikely hero Eder arrowed a stunning strike into the bottom corner.

As the nation which was broken hearted in 2004 "did a Greece", Ronaldo was confined to encouraging his team-mates and geeing up the Portugal fans amid touchline histrionics.

Most likely, he pictured himself producing that moment of Portuguese footballing history, with his torso rippling. Absolutely no one pictured it being Eder.

At full-time Ronaldo celebrated with an unfettered joy that belies his reputation as a self-obsessed individual among team-mates. This was about so much more than beating Lionel Messi to a first major international trophy — although he will not mind that, either.