My Favorite Moment As A Sports Fan

Today marks the anniversary of the Portuguese National Team’s 2016 UEFA European Football Championship win. For me, it remains the greatest moment in the history of my sports fandom, so it only seems right to revisit the goal that delivered Portugal’s first major tournament title.

The ball gets thrown in. Joao Moutinho, a player who unquestionably didn’t get enough minutes (in the tournament and throughout his national team career), uncharacteristically miss-hits the ball, popping it up and chasing after the 50-50 with Antoine Griezmann – the golden ball and golden boot player of the tournament – who has two inches on him. 

But the substitute Moutinho wants it more than the Frenchman who vacationed in Portugal and grew up as the son of a Portuguese woman who worked with a cleaning team in hospitals. Nowadays, Griezmann’s net worth is approximately more than six times that of Moutinho. Griezmann, the grandson of a man who left his footballing trade in Portugal to work construction in France, is the last French player to touch the ball before the goal. 

Moutinho, the unselfish player, who, despite his attacking prowess, has never had the limelight like Portugal National Team central attacking midfielders Rui Costa (a two-time UEFA Euro All-Tournament team selection in 1996 and 2000, who later won the Champions League Final as a starter with A.C. Milan in 2003) and Anderson Luis de Souza a/k/a “Deco” (a recipient of the Ballon d’Or Silver Ball after winning Man of the Match during Porto’s 2004 Champions League win, before starting and winning the Champions League Final with Barcelona in 2006), passes back to William Carvalho – the third-youngest player on the pitch at that time for the red and green. 

Carvalho, whose critics point to his lack of pace, acted fast and thought even quicker in settling the ball with one touch then using his opposite foot to pass to the favored foot of Ricardo Quaresma. Quaresma so favored his right foot that he frequently used the outside of his right foot rather than the instep of his left to an extent that it became his signature “move” – the trivela. The pass to Quaresma may seem simple, but it shows a strong knowledge of his teammate’s strength and weakness, while putting his teammate in the best position to succeed in seemingly a split-second decision and action. 

Quaresma is a player who has been criticized his entire career for being selfish, with more flair than substance. These similar criticisms followed his academy teammate Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United before the “Sultan of the Stepover” helped the Old Trafford team secure the Champions League title – a feat that had only been achieved just twice before in the Red Devils’ storied history (which is, of course, littered with greats like Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and George Best) en route to CR7’s first Ballon d’Or Golden Ball — not bad for a guy whose teammate (now pundit) Rio Ferdinand claimed his “first fault” was to “entertain” without “end product.” 

Quaresma passed the ball with one, single deft touch back to the diminutive and unassuming Moutinho – the epitome of unselfish in a player most claimed was out for personal over collective glory by evidence of his alleged failures to play the ball to teammates in better scoring positions during his early career.

Quaresma was dubbed the most disappointing player (the Bidone d’Oro (“Golden Trashcan”)) in the Italian Serie A league in 2008 and was named a runner-up to that title in 2009.

During the Euro 2016 Tournament, Quaresma assisted CR7 in the final goal that leveled the contest against Hungary in the group stage. He appeared in every Euro 2016 knockout game for Portugal, scoring the lone goal of the match (a header) against Croatia in the Round of 16 and netting the game-winning penalty kick in the Quarterfinal shootout with Poland.

During the final when Cristiano was forced to exit the game due to injury, it was the former Golden Trashcan that came on for the then-three-time Ballon D’Or winner (since then, CR7’s added two more Ballon D’Or Golden Ball trophies to his resume), and the Trashcan forged on as a winger throughout the rest of the game decided in extra time.

No Portuguese player other than Cristiano has won the Ballon D’Or more than once. And, to be fair, only two players from the Portuguese National Team have garnered that honor: Eusebio da Silva Ferreira a/k/a “the Black Panther” (1965) and Luis Figo dubbed “the Lion King” while playing for Barcelona (2000).

Maybe Quaresma’s first fault was to grow up, learning his trade alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in the same academy — a fate that perhaps forever destined his comparisons to Cristiano, an icon who is considered among the Top 5 All Time (irrespective of national origin) using almost any metric.

But it was Quaresma, not Cristiano, who helped deliver the most memorable moment of Portuguese National Team history in the modern era. Cristiano was on the bench. And Quaresma played a quick and simple one-touch pass — arguably one of the most unheralded plays of the Beautiful Game: the pass before the assist

And Moutinho in just two touches finds Ederzito Antonio Macedo Lopes – a man who no one thought would see the field in the Finals. Eder had played in Portuguese leagues throughout his career before being signed a year and 12 days before the Euro 2016 Final to Swansea City then of the Premier League. With Swansea, Eder started less than five times and failed to score in more than 10 games before he was placed on loan. 

If you were to make a list of the best Portuguese strikers of all time, Eder might not crack the Top 10 (Eusebio, Cristiano, Pauleta, Nuno Gomes, Postiga, Joao Pinto, and Jose Aguas, are, undoubtedly, ahead of him). Most fans would likely argue that a host of attacking midfielders would have been more effective than Eder in his natural position before putting Eder in their Top 10. Some might even point out that Pepe – the embodiment of a center half – has scored more goals than Eder. 

When Eder was subbed on the field, I can’t say I was excited, but I kept saying, “Well, we need something – some energy – someone to, at least, chase things down.” I’ve been a Portuguese Men’s National Team fan all my life, and I never thought in a million years he would score in that match. 

A Selecao, a team that did not secure a win in the group stage, had played 84 minutes without Cristiano Ronaldo against the tournament’s favorites in the host’s “national stadium.” Eder had played about 30 minutes coming on for Portugal’s second biggest star of the tournament (arguably more consistent in the tourney than CR7) – Renato Sanches in the 79th minute.

Portugal was without its biggest names, playing against a team that had beaten them 10 out of the last 10 times, going back to the 1970s. None of it mattered. Just absolute brilliance, desire, and teamwork from underrated, over-criticized underdogs. When Eder was dribbling I remember feeling like my heart was leaping out of my chest. Four words followed: “Holy, Shit, Eder! Yes!!!!!”

In the post-game show, ESPN commentators proceeded to attempt to shit on our moment, criticizing what they characterized as “negative” or “safe” football. Writing a column for ESPN, the British commentator Ian Darke declared Euro 2016 “the worst major tournament since Italia ’90.”

I could not have found anything less appropriate than the term “negative.” The play leading to the goal and all the circumstances surrounding it was one of the bravest displays of football. It was anything, but safe. Fans of the red and green know this to be the best tournament of their lives.

Portugal bears a rich soccer history, featuring some of the best talents to grace the game, including: transcendent all-world legends like Eusebio, Paulo Futre, Figo, Rui Costa, Deco, and Ricardo Carvalho; and other talented greats like Mario Coluna, Vicente Lucas, Nino Ricardo de Oliveira Ribeiro a/k/a “Maniche,” Joao Pinto, Fernando Chalana, Nuno Gomes, and Fabio Coentrao. But it was a group of underdogs, playing without the one talent the pundits claimed gave them a puncher’s chance, that delivered the greatest moment in the history of Portuguese soccer.

No one can take that away from the Portuguese National Team or its fans. And with the European Championship being postponed to next year, the universe has extended Portugal’s European Championship reign, forcing Darke and his colleagues to see the title remain in the hands of A Selecao just a little while longer. As much as I love to watch futebol, I have to relish in the silver lining of it all — the Portuguese still have the gold.

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