Why Portugal Winning the Euro 2016 is Much More than a Trophy

Why Winning the Euro 2016 is Much More than a Trophy

It’s been a while since I paid close attention to football. I don’t follow the championships, I don’t have a favorite team, heck, if I try to remember the basic rules of the game all becomes foggy. And then, there I was, cursing at the TV set, my heart racing, trying to follow a crazy, vertiginous match between Hungary and Portugal. I think that’s when I started to believe it was possible.

Two years ago when I returned to Portugal from India the country felt weighed down by an invisible lead cloud. It wasn’t because of the recession – people had made their peace with the fact that things were a little tighter than usual at the moment. It was the lack of hope in the future, in a land where most of their young adults had emigrated (a handful of my friends included). Eventually, that generalized sense of despair started to rub off on me, no matter how positive I tried to be.

On May 1st, 2015, at the usual labor day march in the streets of Lisbon, people were silently furious – to me that is the most dangerous kind of discontent, one that says the fuse is already lit but no one knows when and where it’s going to blow up.

Closer to the end of the year, while I was giving a shot at expat life in London, the refugee crisis broke out and in a country where people were already so fed up of being screwed over, they turned their hate towards others based on misinformed notions of race and religion. Extreme right-wing fear mongers rode that wave as much and as deeply as they could, to my disgust and concern, and the Portuguese forgot the roots of their mixed cultural background.

In October, as I waited to board my flight from Lisbon to London after a short trip home, I stood at the boarding gate while the (then) President of Portugal announced his decision regarding the recent election for Prime Minister – despite the minority of votes, the former Prime Minister would continue to rule. The few Portuguese that stood at that boarding gate with me released a unanimous sigh of defeat.

But things started to turn for the better weeks later. The old government fell and a new one rose (from a historic alliance between all the left wing parties); people started to feel they had been heard. Months later a new President was elected, a contrasting figure with the former one (authoritative, incapable of a warm smile, not passing important laws out of a personal whim as opposed to the interest of the people). The media calls the new President “the affectionate one”. People tend to follow a leader who walks with them side by side, not one who orders them to take the leap.

Little by little I began to feel a general sense of relief all around, and then came the Euro 2016 and a coach who firmly declared he didn’t intend to return home before July 11th (the day after the final). I twisted my nose at this. Sure I wanted to believe, but I was sure the others were much better than us – typical Portuguese mentality of the recent years.

But more important than the sense of hope and future we were all experiencing, was the substance of this team. Some are sons of immigrants, some descend from ethnic minorities (considered as troublesome), some are Portuguese citizens by choice instead of birth.

This team taught us a lesson in diversity, hope, the importance of dreaming, expecting the unexpected, and working hard to achieve your goals.

Today, we celebrate more than a silver cup! We got this! (Oh, and yeah, it feels good to kick France’s ass! #sorrynotsorry)


A photo posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on

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