Portugal, Footballing Cockroaches

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Conquerors of Europe; crowds of fans queued to meet The Portuguese team as they arrived in Lisbon.
Conquerors of Europe; crowds of fans queued to meet The Portuguese team as they arrived in Lisbon.


There is a myth that cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast.  This is incorrect, they like most organic and inorganic materials in the blast radius would be obliterated.  However, they are remarkably tough, able to go without eating for a month, reproduce well, even in harsh conditions, and even develop resistance to toxins.


A few international football teams, especially in Africa, have nicknames.  Nigeria has the Super Eagles (or Chickens depending on the day), we have the Black Stars of Ghana, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire.  Further afield some teams in Europe have nicknames.  Former World Champions Spain are known as La Furia Rioja (Red Fury), Brazil are sometimes known as the Canaries and Wales really played up their Dragons nickname at the just concluded European Championships.


Portugal’s nickname is A Selecao (the Selection).  Sometimes they call them the Selection of The Five Shields, which sounds like an upcoming Game of Thrones novel than a football.  In my opinion, they should be called the Cockroaches.


They just would not be beaten.  They just would not die.  In the knockout rounds, they came up against a series of hipster’s choices and emotional favourites.  Croatia, fresh from beating Spain to top their group were beaten in extra time in the Round of 16.  Poland, with Lewandowski finally sparking to life, were beaten in the ¼ finals, and then finally, the Welsh dragon was slain in the semi-final.


In the final, they met France, the hosts, and possibly one of the few teams to actually perform to standard.  They hung on and hung on and then 10 minutes from the end, after one hundred and ten gruelling, muggy, moth-infested minutes in Saint-Denis, they unleashed a bolt from the blue, Eder, a gangly, clumsy looking footballer, who didn’t pull up any trees at England’s Swansea City, who had just sealed a move to Lille, a club in France, fired home the winner from around 25 yards.


France had nothing, they looked bereft of ideas, like a team that had been playing for penalties and could not fathom that their opponents would ever score.  They huffed and they puffed, but the Portuguese defence, led by Pepe, kept them at bay and finally, referee, Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle three times and they had won.


Narratives are interesting in sports.  Portugal and Wales were similar teams, a collection of decent to good players led by a superstar.  Yet due to Portugal’s history, big tournament experience and pedigree, the press were rather less forgiving.  While Wales got plaudits for getting to the semis, Portugal were cast in the role of spoilers and villains.


Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstar, played the last time Portugal got to the final, in 2004.  Then they played against Greece and lost.  Greece were the underdogs facing the star-studded hosts, Portugal, the Greeks were the unfancied team for much of the tournament, but they kept on going, kept on grinding out victories.  However, most people were positive about the Greeks, enjoying their fairy-tale run to the final.


Portugal faced very good teams along the way, they overcame Croatia’s world class midfield, and Poland’s slick play.  They stood up to the emotional storm of Wales.  Against Wales, key defender and all round bad egg (on the pitch) Pepe was unavailable.  In the final, Ronaldo barely lasted 20 minutes before he had to come off injured.  And yet, they overcame.


All key ingredients for a fairy tale story, and yet, it’s a fairy tale that no one wants to read.  Outside of Portugal, and the die-hard Real Madrid fans across Africa from Casablanca to Cape Town who see Ronaldo’s success as an extension of their club’s success, no one is dancing a jig.   Unless, of course, you just really hate the French.





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