My country went crazy with the victory of the national team. But between the laughter, tears and possible fainting, no one has answered the fundamental question yet: how many Portuguese people had heart attacks during the European Cup? We’re waiting for information. One thing is certain: anyone who survived the 7 epic battles in France is sure to live to a 100.
I haven’t used the word “battle” just by chance. Portugal began badly, very badly, and was one step away from going home when they were still in the group phase. They tied against Iceland (a hard-working amateur team). They tied against Austria. And with Hungary they were on the point of losing – three times. This defeat would have purely and simply meant elimination from the European cup. It didn’t happen. They managed to draw three times. I have the feeling that it was during this game that the first of the casualties began to arrive at the cardiology services.
The people were desperate. Where was the aesthetically wonderful Latin football that filled our countrymen with pride? Fact: Portugal didn’t win cups; but there was a traditional figure in our football – “the moral victory” – which always consoled the heart of the aesthetes.
There was no beauty in France, and to make it worse, the Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos, kept saying that he was there to be champion. “I’m only going back to Portugal on 11th June”, he said, defying the gods – and logic.
The country was in a panic. And what if the coach had gone nuts? The TV commentators cracked their whips 24 hours a day. We all know about our national pessimism. We’re a people of suicides, as Miguel de Unamuno said. But the comments weren’t pessimistic. They were really mournful. All it needed was for someone to say it would be better to give up before the name of the motherland was put to shame.
No one gave up. Then it was the eighth round. Against Croatia, which won in its group (Spain came second). The result? Guess. A tie. I watched the game in a Portuguese restaurant and, for the first time ever, both waiters and customers turned to stone. No one was serving dinners. No one had dinner. I still tried to order a Bacalhau à Brás, but no one heard me.
And when Portugal scored a goal in extra time, no one celebrated. My compatriots were like the victims of psychological torture, incapable of reacting to the most basic stimuli. I was still hungry, but respected the moment.
Portugal was in the quarter-finals. Enthusiasm was starting to show, like timid flowers tearing the tarmac. Poland was the team. And at 90 minutes, a tie. And in extra time, a tie. Penalties?
“Don’t do this to us!” was the cry heard from Vila Real (of Trás-os-Montes) to Vila Real (of Santo António). People were shouting in the stadium too. Team captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, ordered his colleagues to stay on the playing field. “It’s all in God’s hands now!” he yelled – the microphones were on and the broadcast was live. “If we lose, fuck it!”, he added, a lovely prayer that will go down in history.
Portugal didn’t miss any of the first five penalties. Poland missed one on the ninth round. The semi-finals were literally at Quaresma’s feet. Quaresma walked to the penalty area, put the ball down, took a shot and scored a goal. And when we watch the player’s reaction, for just one, or maybe, two seconds he isn´t celebrating. He looks incredulous and fearful. “What the hell have I done?” the forward seems to be asking.
The team answered that question by knocking the poor guy over. If Quaresma didn’t die crushed by the 22 players who jumped on him, Portugal would be indestructible.
The international press began to snarl. It wanted the “moral victories” of the past, when the game was really beautiful – and in the end, Germany took the cup. Or France.
Talking about France, the French newspapers were already throwing insults. “Disgusting” football, they wrote. Portugal, ironically, agreed. “I don’t care if I’m champion just with ties”, said the coach. The country laughed. Everyone was just as crazy as he was.
And at the semi-finals, Portugal crushed the coach’s dream. There was no tie. There was a victory (2-0) against Wales. It was impossible not to feel a certain dejection in the crowd. “Where’s my adrenalin?” asked the “junkies”, with obvious withdrawal symptoms.
In the end, came the overdose. The opposing team was France, an old executioner who had eliminated Portugal in 1984 (in the semi-finals of the European Cup), in 2000 (idem) and in 2006 (in the semi-finals of the World Cup).
And the suffering began right at the beginning: Cristiano Ronaldo abandoned the French stadium, injured and in tears. “It’s finished”, whispered a family member, known for his optimism. Later, the Portuguese coach brought on the forward Éder – and he repeated the good humour: “Massacred, we’re going to be massacred.”
We weren’t. The 90 minutes ended. A tie. The Portuguese pharmacies had run out of Xanax by that time. And then, in the 109th minute in extra time, the underdog Éder shot from outside the penalty area, scoring the first and only and victorious goal of Portugal, and my relation left the room. “I need to go to the bathroom”, he said. We respected that. One hour later, he was still there.
The new day dawned. The country had a hangover after a night of fever and insomnia. On the TV, the Portuguese living in France – a vast community of 1 million people – declared that 10th July was the happiest day of their lives. Winning the European cup was one thing. Winning it in Paris was proof of life: so that the French would understand that they weren’t just “invisible workers”. Their faces bore the unmistakable marks of hours of partying – and weeping.
I left the house, walked to the restaurant and asked for a Bacalhau à Brás to celebrate. I was served loftily. Then, in conversation with the owner, I provoked him saying: “Now we’re going to win the World Cup, Mr. Almeida”.
He smiled with pity and replied: “Massacred, we’re going to be massacred.”
That’s a good sign.
JOÃO PEREIRA COUTINHO is a columnist in Portugal and Brazil and a regular political commentator on Portuguese television. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations from the Catholic University of Portugal, where he also teaches. His latest books (‘Conservadorismo’ and ‘Vamos ao que Interessa’) have been published simultaneously in Portugal and Brazil.
Artigo publicado na íntegra na Folha de São Paulo