segunda-feira, 11 de julho de 2016
Portuguese character trumps French frailty
A LER. Grande comentário no POLITICO
Portuguese character trumps French frailty
One team had the will to win. The other just had je ne sais quoi.
By TUNKU VARADARAJAN 7/11/16, 1:04 AM CET Updated 7/11/16, 6:00 AM CET
The glib and the superficial will be tempted to dismiss the finals of Euro 2016 as a drab end to a dull and shabby tournament. They will be missing a huge point about finals of championships — and about football itself.
Portugal beat France 1-0, and the modesty of the scoreline obscures a multitude of things: drama, fortitude, pungency, perversity, stamina and determination. What it doesn’t obscure is the fact that this was Portugal’s greatest achievement as a nation since the day it was admitted to the European Economic Community in 1986.
With all the pre-match talk of this game being a head-on collision between the two teams’ stars — Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo — it was easy to forget that football is a team game. A reminder of that truth came cruelly in the 25th minute when Ronaldo was stretchered off the field. Portugal, you’d have thought, was now a team orphaned. What would become of the men left on the field, without their star player, their glittering talisman?
Ronaldo had been injured in the 8th minute after a robust, but not outlandish, tackle by Dimitri Payet. His knee buckled, and he sank to the turf, prompting a grotesque bout of boos from the French fans. He limped off the field for treatment, then limped back on again, only to subside to the turf once more. The French fans repeated their eruption of boos — cacophonic and merciless, a hideous way to treat an injured man; but chivalry isn’t the strength of French crowds, who could learn a thing or two from some of the fans who’ve been in their midst from more sporting nations.
It was a paradox, but Portugal grew in strength with Ronaldo’s departure; and France, which had looked invincible until that point, seemed to have the air sucked out of it. It was as if the departure of its biggest foe had left it clueless about who the opponent now was.
Portugal knitted itself into chain mail; and as the French let fly their arrows, they failed to pierce the Portuguese defense. The heroic Rui Patricio, in goal, was like a character from the Lusiads.
The football was seldom pretty, except when Eder scored magically in the 110th minute; and it wasn’t always edifying. At times like this, particularly in the finals of major tournaments, it’s best not to think of the game purely as football. Think of it, instead, as a broader human drama, a test of character, and of all the skills and arts of survival and penetration.
So I didn’t think of Pepe — doughty, villainous, scrappy, histrionic Pepe — as just a footballer marshaling Portugal’s backline. I saw him as a soldier, a survivor, a repulser of advancing hordes. I didn’t think of Nani — underperforming, often disappointing Nani — as the forward most likely to score a goal for Portugal; I thought of him as the scout who forayed deep into enemy territory looking for chinks and byways.
The French took the field, it should be said, with a certain entitled strut, and one sensed, halfway through the game, that they were heading for a comeuppance. They squandered opportunities galore, and Didier Deschamps will rue his mishandling of Paul Pogba and his mistrust of Anthony Martial. He will also rue, I suspect, the absence of Karim Benzema, excluded from the squad on blousy moral grounds. France missed the bustle of Big Benz; France missed his cutting edge.
The Portuguese, for their part, played true to national and historical type. Theirs is a land that has always used its scarce resources wisely, cannily, stretching them to the utmost extent. How else could a sliver of land on the western extreme of continental Europe build for itself an empire of such magnitude. There is a dourness of resolve, a defensive fortitude, an indefatigable stubbornness to the Portuguese that served them well in empire and served them on the football field on Sunday night.
This, remember, was the last European power to yield independence to its African colonies. There was a cussedness to its colonial longevity, just as there was a cussedness to its football last night. The beautiful French, with their skills and thrills and their peacock-players, could not break down the spirit of the Portuguese. The French team didn’t have the resolve for a prolonged scrap. Their desire to “win pretty” was too suffocating.
The final will be remembered longest in Portugal, where it will be remembered for an eternity. The rest of us would do well to admire the winners for their will to win. After all, that is what every team came to do at Euro 2016.
Would we like every team to play football the way this Portuguese team does? Certainly not. But would we like every team to want to win as badly as Ronaldo and his band of men did? I think we do. Most certainly we do.
Additional reporting by Satya Varadarajan.
Tunku Varadarajan, contributing editor at POLITICO, is writing The Linesman column on Euro 2016.