Happy Ronaldo leaves European final in tears for 2nd time
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after his team won the Euro 2016 final soccer match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — This time, Cristiano Ronaldo cried with joy at a European Championship final and lifted the trophy as the winning captain.
The Portugal star hoisted the silver trophy and screamed "Vamos" — "Let's go" — as he got his hands on an elusive first major title for his national team at the age of 31.
First there had been anguish. Ronaldo had a tearful night as first he was injured by a strong tackle by France's Dimitri Payet, forcing him to leave the pitch in the 25th minute of the game when he was unable to continue.
He returned to the field to rally his teammates for 30 minutes of extra time when it was 0-0 after 90 minutes at the Stade de France.
Defying the pain of a heavily bandaged left knee, Ronaldo took the role of assistant to coach Fernando Santos and leaped around the technical area urging on his players.
"With him being there in the locker room and on the bench it was very important to us, to reach the players and motivate them," Santos said through a translator.
When substitute forward Eder fired a fired low shot to score in the 109th minute, Ronaldo cried again and held his hands up in a prayer gesture as he walked away for a moment alone before joining the jumping huddle of celebrating Portugal players and staff.
A full 12 years after a teenaged Ronaldo cried on the field in Lisbon after the Euro 2004 host Portuguese team lost 1-0 to Greece, his emotions were on show again on the big stage.
This time, he left his teammates to pull off a similar upset against a favored host nation, France, on Sunday. And they did.
The Portugal players quickly recovered their composure after losing their talisman midway through the first half.
Ronaldo exited the pitch on a stretcher with his hands covering his face to hide the tears beneath.
For the three-time world player of the year, he must have thought Euro 2016 was his best — or even only — chance of a title with Portugal.
Ronaldo was perhaps the victim of his own over-confidence and nonchalance as Payet charged in to challenge.
Standing still with his right foot hovering over the ball in midfield, Ronaldo struck a teasing pose as if to taunt Payet about what he planned to do next.
When Ronaldo finally passed the ball away, his weight was on his standing left leg that took the force of the Frenchman's tackle. Payet's right knee bumped hard into Ronaldo's left knee, and the pain was immediately obvious.
Ronaldo tried to run off the injury, but repeatedly reached down with his right and left hands to gently press his knee.
The Portugal team doctors treated him once on the sidelines, then bandaged the knee to give greater support.
Still, Ronaldo never looked comfortable and with 23 minutes on the clock, he raised an arm to signal to Portugal coach Fernando Santos that he could not continue.
Boos rained down on Payet from fans at Portugal's end of the stadium when he was substituted early in the second half.
After the 90 minutes ended at 0-0, Ronaldo emerged from the players' tunnel to rally his teammates.
Looking tense and emotional, Ronaldo went between players with hugs and words of encouragement before taking a seat in the dugout to watch the rest of the final.
At half time in extra time, he urged tactical advice on long-time friend Nani and hugged the relatively inexperienced Eder.
As the seconds ticked away at the end of the match, Ronaldo hugged and shoved Santos in a show of exuberant happiness. Then the tears flowed again.