It’s only been a month since Portugal’s last match, and already March 29th seems so far away. For anyone who is as big a fan of the Seleção as I am, you know what I’m talking about.
The withdrawal pangs begin in earnest as soon as the emotional intensity of an international fixture drains away. I would launch into a tirade about how the emotional “high” of watching Portugal is aggravated by their propensity to underachieve, but I digress.
During these international fixture droughts, I often contemplate the many fond memories that have collected over the years. By that, of course, I mean I hop on Youtube and do my best to relive each and every moment. For example, a couple weeks ago I watched a video compilation of every goal that Cristiano Ronaldo has scored for Portugal. I also watched a short clip from a documentary about Euro 2004, an especially bitter moment in Portugal’s footballing history.
I’m always left intrigued by the manner in which the most uplifting moments coalesce with the moments of despair, forming a tapestry of football culture that is instantly recognizable to every fan of the unique Portuguese “brand.”
There are those that claim that every goal tells its own story. Sometimes a single goal leaves behind such a mark on history that it might even change how we think of the sport itself. To envision such a goal can almost produce a physical reaction. Sometimes it’s a feeling of euphoria when thinking of a winning goal, or a bitter taste when imagining a goal scored by an opponent. Maradona’s “hand of God” goal is one such example of a goal that can produce a wide range of emotional responses depending on the context.
Portugal’s own footballing narrative is replete with such moments, at least for me. In tribute, I’ve shared some of my favourite experiences, games, and goals from 2006 onwards as a way of relating how these have connected me to the Portuguese game.
25 June 2006 Portugal 1-0 Netherlands
In an otherwise combative affair dubbed “The Battle of Nuremberg,” Maniche’s 23rd minute thunderbolt stood out as one of the goals of the 2006 World Cup and sent Portugal marching into the quarterfinals. It was while watching this edition of the World Cup that I fell in love with Portuguese football. The visceral power and expert precision of the strike perfectly symbolized Portugal’s dynamic and exciting brand of attacking football which earned the Seleção the “Most Exciting Team” award for the World Cup 2006.
24 March 2007 Portugal 4-0 Belgium
This is perhaps the match that everyone remembers as the prototype for what could have (and should have) been for the Seleção. Yes, I’m talking about the famous victory in which Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma wreaked absolute havoc on the visiting Belgians at the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon. In a sensational match, Quaresma scored an outrageous goal (his first for Portugal) from the edge of the penalty area with his trademark “outside of the boot” technique.
Tragically, this game marked a distinct turning point in the careers of Ronaldo and Quaresma. Cristiano would go on to win the Ballon d’Or for the first time that season while Quaresma’s club career steadily deteriorated. As spells with Inter Milan, Chelsea, and Besiktas ended in abject failure, Quaresma featured less and less for the Seleção, and has only scored once for the national team since 2008. Today, discussions between fans of the Seleção regarding the lost potential of Ricardo Quaresma, and the spectacle of what might have been if he had reached his potential, remain commonplace.
5 September 2009 Denmark 1-1 Portugal
This match had the look of a feisty encounter from the onset. Portugal was floundering in World Cup 2010 qualifying and in dire need of points to stay ahead of Sweden in the race for a playoff spot. Portugal had already been beaten at home by the Danes and followed that performance with a shocking 0-0 draw with Albania. After another 0-0 draw with Sweden, Portugal were absolutely desperate, and it took a very late Bruno Alves header against Albania to even give Portugal something worth fighting for in Copenhagen.
What I remember most about this match was the sheer volume of squandered chances. The Seleção dominated play from the opening whistle, but couldn’t find their way through in front of a full stadium of hostile supporters. Nicklas Bendtner scored the opener against the run of play and the stage was set for an epic and agonizing second half. What ensued in that final 45 minutes can best be described as both legendary and unbelievable. Prior to Liedson’s dramatic 86th minute equalizer, Portugal threw absolutely everything they had at the Danes. This was perhaps best epitomized by a desperate goalmouth scramble that even Cristiano Ronaldo could not finish off. The Seleção took over 30 shots in the game, perhaps 15 of them on goal. It was true reckless abandon, raw entertainment.
I have to make one final comment about this game that I think bears testimony to a phenomenon that true fans of the Seleção can understand. I’m talking about the extent to which the team’s profligacy in front of goal is a part of our footballing identity. It is a distinct attribute of our game that we joke about, and something that we also cry about. Something we despise, and yet a feature of our game that binds us emotionally, whatever the final result may be. Over time, watching one’s team squander countless opportunities can create a veritable tempest of emotions that deeply attaches us as fans to our national side. This paradox, much like how tragic plays, movies, and stories can be so endearing, is difficult to explain, but is something that Portugal fans can understand.
For me, this ideal was made manifest as I watched our team struggle and ultimately come away with a crucial point in Copenhagen. What a match.
21 June 2010 Portugal 7-0 North Korea
Many will remember the notorious 7-0 beatdown of the upstart North Koreans in the 2010 World Cup for the “goals are like ketchup” comment made by Cristiano Ronaldo before the game. Portugal’s captain was responding to a question about the team’s failure to score against the Ivory Coast in their opening group match when he made the analogy.
The Koreans had perhaps overstated their ambition to beat Portugal and thus avenge their 5-3 loss at the hands of Eusébio and co. in the 1966 World Cup. Their brave words, having built to a crescendo, came crashing down on them in the rain of Cape Town as the Seleção replied with a ruthless performance. This match stands in stark contrast to the previously discussed game against Denmark in terms of efficiency in front of goal. At times in the second half it seemed as if every attack would lead to a goal. In the end, those who watched the game will agree that 7-0 was probably more merciful than it was just. Ronaldo by himself could have scored several more goals including a ferociously struck effort that crashed against the woodwork.
Sadly, Portugal wouldn’t score another goal in the entire tournament and were knocked out in the round of 16 by eventual champions Spain.
17 November 2010 Portugal 4-0 Spain
Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so the saying goes. Whatever the case may be, Portugal battered the world champions in a way that was simply historic. In an unprecedented era of dominance, Spain lost a grand total of four matches between 7 February 2007 and the date this match was played. That’s four matches in nearly 4 years of play. It was also Spain’s worst defeat since a 6-2 humbling at the hands of Scotland in 1963.
This game hearkened back to earlier times in the history of the Seleção full of swashbuckling and often brash attacking intent. As is usually the case, Ronaldo’s play galvanized the team. The referee’s decision to incorrectly rule out his spectacularly chipped goal only seemed to enrage the Seleção. Even the 4-0 scoreline fails to tell the whole story. Ultimately, the result was so one-sided that Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas would go on to say that it was a “match where we can’t take anything positive” and that the team “needs to apologise to the fans.”
15 November 2011 Portugal 6-2 Bosnia
Sometimes everything just clicks. That’s certainly one way to describe how Portugal dismantled the visiting Bosnians in the second leg of their Euro 2012 playoff tie. Having drawn 0-0 in Zenica, there were some who thought that Portugal’s luck would run out against the likes of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic. But it wasn’t to be as Portugal put in perhaps their best team performance of all time.
Cristiano Ronaldo certainly played a leading role by scoring a brace, one an electrifying 8th minute free kick, but it was the collective efforts of the team that shone brightest at the Estadio da Luz. After Nani put Portugal 2-0 up with a screamer from 25 yards, Bosnia gave Portugal a scare until the oft-maligned Helder Postiga and Miguel Veloso put the game on ice, the latter with a beautifully curled free kick.
17 June 2012 Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
This is the match that I often speak of in hushed tones. It still raises the hair on my neck to even think of it. I remember everything about it. I could go on and on about my experience at the Euros, but this game is not my favourite of all time just because of my personal adventure at Euro 2012. I remember it in the context of how many people thought Portugal would fail in that tournament’s Group of Death. The vast majority of public opinion, including that of many Portugal fans, was firmly convinced in the build up to Poland/Ukraine 2012 that the team didn’t stand a chance against Germany, and a Netherlands team that had been perfect in qualifying until their final, meaningless match against Sweden. Portugal by comparison had once again underachieved in qualifying and was winless in four of its last five matches dating back to the pre-tournament friendlies.
The divine performance that transpired in Kharkiv was motivated in part by the constant drivel being directed at the team from all corners of the footballing globe. The English press, notorious for its tendency to devalue all other national sides but its own, had by this time piled a heaping burden of responsibility on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo for his subpar performances against Denmark and Germany.
After Rafael Van Der Vaart opened the scoring, I watched on the edge of my seat as my beloved Portugal absolutely mauled their opponents for the remaining 79 minutes of the match. Ronaldo was at the centre of it all, hitting the post twice, scoring a brace, and taking every opportunity afforded to him to demonstrate that he was not to be written off so easily.
Though the hope of glory was extinguished once again by Spain, this match will always stand out in my memory as one of the finest performances of this generation.
19 November 2013 Sweden 2-3 Portugal
When Portugal travelled to the outskirts of Stockholm with a 1-0 lead in their playoff tie against Sweden, I have to admit that I encountered some doubt regarding our chances of progressing to the World Cup. For once, I thought maybe this would be the moment when our prior luck in tournament playoffs would run out.
As he has done throughout his entire career, Cristiano Ronaldo silenced my doubts and those of the rest of the world by putting in a legendary hat-trick performance that left the Swedish fans in disbelief. Though some of the glory must be shared with Joao Moutinho, who excelled at finding Ronaldo with key passes, it was Portugal’s talisman that shattered all expectations once again.
When I watch video of this match I’m particularly moved by Ronaldo’s second goal. At a time in the match when Portugal was in danger of collapse, Ronaldo harnessed his exceptional pace to run onto Hugo Almeida’s throughball. But it’s that finish….that absolutely brutal, merciless finish into the bottom right corner that always leaves its mark on me. It’s exactly that blend of surgical precision and raw power that has turned Ronaldo into the most lethal goalscorer of his age.
10 June 2014 Portugal 5-1 Ireland
This game had little meaning, if any. But on a personal level, it was a match that I greatly enjoyed nonetheless. Ronaldo’s return to the line-up following his lengthy absence due to knee issues built up my hopes to a level that was ultimately irrational. Regardless of what eventually transpired in the World Cup weeks later, Portugal’s display against the Irish remains a stirring example of everything I love about the Seleção. It was here that I bore witness to the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen in person; a goal scored by Nani that was so cruelly declared offside in the end. Find it on Youtube, it is a masterpiece.
I hope during this holiday season you’ve enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane. 2015 draws near and with it comes the fresh hope of being another year closer to seeing our Seleção bring home its first major championship. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
by Nathan Motz