But before the ball was kicked, coach Fernando Santos prophesied an unlikely victory.
“From the first moment, the first qualifying match, he said,‘ We will win Euro 2016, ’’ Cédric Soares told CNN Sport.
“He put it on the board. At the time, no one really believed it. And during the qualifying matches he already put the same message on the board: ‘We will win Euro 2016.’ We hadn’t even qualified.”
Friday marks four years since Portugal won 1-0 in France in the Euros final. The host nation had enjoyed a smoother step to the final and had managed to win, only for Eder’s long and extra time strike to spoil France’s party at the Stade de France in Paris and concede in Portugal his greatest moment in international football.
Ronaldo, who was denied European glory in 2004 with defeat in the final in Greece, would spend the rest of the match restlessly on the sidelines, shouting orders to his team.
As for those who were on the field, the absence of their captain showed a galvanizing moment.
“It was hard to digest,” defender Jose Fonte told CNN Sport as he reflected on the final.
“But once (Ronaldo) came down from the pitch, we looked at each other and I saw the resilience of my teammates. I saw them grit their teeth and they said to me, ‘Come on. “Today will be without Ronaldo. Today. We will have to do without him, so we have to work even harder.”
“That was the attitude during the game and at the break: we just kept believing. I think it made us even stronger,” I think.
“Every player’s dream”
The Portuguese community in Paris had provided support for the stadium pockets throughout the tournament, but home fans eagerly awaited the team’s return.
After seeing the country’s great golden generation in the early 2000s, which included tastes like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and Deco, the big tournaments, the 2016 victory was won.
“It was absolute madness, there were amazing scenes when we got off the plane,” says Fonte, who starred during the eight rhythms in 2016.
“Even in the air, we had two fighter jets by our side when we entered Portuguese airspace. I remember seeing them with the scarf and the Portuguese flag on the plane, that was amazing.
“Then we landed … I started seeing people waiting for us outside the airport. And then the bus stop, there were millions and millions of people on the streets celebrating with us. No one will ever forget that moment; it was just amazing to just be a part of it, amazing. “
Red and green jets of water greeted the flight when the team played in Lisbon, while thousands roamed the streets for the trophy parade through the capital.
“I felt like the happiest man in the world because wearing the national team jersey is unique and winning a trophy for your country is the dream of every player,” explains player Nani, who won the Champions League and four Premier League titles with Manchester United. CNN Sport.
“It was the high point of my career. It was so good to give that joy to our people.”
In the final against France, Portugal proved to be more than a one-team team to Ronaldo.
His influence throughout the tournament was undeniable, providing two crucial goals to rescue a draw in the group stages against Hungary and break the deadlock in the semi-finals with a header against Wales.
But the confidence of Santos, who is now 65, had taken root in his players ended up shining.
“Obviously (Ronaldo) is the best in the world,” Fonte says. “Having the best in the world on your team, you already know that you will always come out dangerous; you will always create situations and you know you can win games.
“We just thought we could beat anyone with him on the pitch. Portugal has a lot of really good individual players, but we are stronger because of our team spirit, our organization, our manager.
“When Fernando Santos took over, I think it was a change of mindset. His belief in us, his belief in the team, made us think we could do it from the beginning.”
Learn to “suffer”
With this belief and determined will, Portugal headed for European success.
After reaching the knockout stages by eliminating all matches in the group stage, Santos ’side got two extra wins – against Croatia in the round of 16 and France in the final – and came from behind to draw with Poland. in the quarters before advancing penalized.
To say that Portugal had to fight and spoil the title would be an understatement; no nation has ever been crowned European champion by winning just one match in regulation time.
“I think in order to win you need to be able to suffer and our team was very good at that,” says Arsenal’s Soares, who, like his defensive partner Fonte, played throughout the knockout phase.
“Football is from those moments. If you’re not willing to suffer you can’t win a football game. This tournament, we’ve had some tough times, but overall what comes out is a lot bigger.
“The games were getting more and more exciting. We were looking forward to the games and that I think made a big difference. The way the team was together, not just the starting 11, was everyone. He felt that huge push of everyone “.
Portugal’s title defense has been postponed until next year amid the coronavirus outbreak. After claiming the inaugural League of Nations title over the Netherlands last year, winning becomes a habit for Santos ’team.
Ronaldo will turn 36 when next year’s tournament returns; it would be a fifth European championship record there was. Fonte, who plays for French club Lille, turns 37 in December, while his central partner Pepe has also been in the late 1930s and yet to hang up his boots.
While several players are entering the twilight of their careers, the emergence of young talent, such as 20-year-old Atletico Madrid striker Joao Felix, ensures that the squad maintains a combination of youth and experience.
“Football is going really fast,” Soares says. “Of course, no one can eliminate what we did … but football is made of moments and happens very quickly.
“I don’t think we should have put more pressure because we won the euros, but obviously people look at us with a different respect.
“I think we own that and we need to show it again.”