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Portugal Aim To Banish Nightmare Of Euro 2004 With Nations League Win On Home Soil

Cristiano Ronaldo was left in tears
Cristiano Ronaldo was left in tears

July 5, 2004. The day after the night before. Portugal was in a state of mourning after seeing their side, managed by Luis Felipe Scolari-  the man who had led Brazil to World Cup glory two years previous - surprisingly lose in the European Championships final to underdogs Greece.

Now 15 years on, Cristiano Ronaldo will lead his Portugal side out tonight for another international tournament on home soil. Unsurprisingly, he is the only player remaining from the side that fell at the final hurdle in 2004 which included big names such as Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Helder Postiga.

That squad was jam-packed full of talent and on home soil, expected to win their first major international trophy. Things started badly for the hosts as they came up against eventual winners Greece in the tournament’s curtain-raiser. The underdogs went into a two-goal lead and secured all three points despite a late goal from Ronaldo.

The press went into a mini-meltdown, how could the strong hosts lose to a side that were out at 150/1 to win the tournament?

Things improved for the hosts in the following group games and Russia and rivals Span saw them top the group, with Greece qualifying in second place. The opening game had been put behind them having won the group and the belief was high heading into the quarter-final with England.

That game was a thriller. Michael Owen put England ahead early before Helder Postiga equalised late on. A stonking strike from Rui Costa gave them the lead in extra-time but Frank Lampard took the game to penalties with a late strike. Of course back then, England were woeful from 12 yards and Ricardo made the headlines, first stopping Darius Vassell’s effort after removing his gloves, before converting himself to send Portugal into the last four.

Portugal beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the semi-finals after a wonderstrike from Maniche and the nation went mad, they were just one step away from the ultimate glory - and they were heavy favourites.

"The Unstoppable Force - We Are At The Gates Of Glory." (Record Newspaper)

This would be the first final in a major tournament that had repeated a group stage game since the Netherlands took on the Soviet Union at Euro ‘88 and the first in which the opening game was repeated as the final. Greece had got through the knockout stages without conceding a goal and their doggedness had got them to the final, against all the odds.

Managed by a German in Otto Rehhagel, the Greeks worked their way to the final and produced on the big stage. It was not pretty but it was effective. All of the pressure was on the hosts and they could not deliver on the biggest stage. In fact, no side has won the Euros on home soil since France in 1984 and even then there were only eight teams participating in the finals tournament.

Portugal struggled during the game and Greece’s physicality was too much for them. The decisive moment came as Angelos Charisteas rose highest from the corner to head the only goal of the game. That sparked jubilant scenes for the Greeks and complete desolation for the hosts. Luis Figo - in what should have been the crowning glory of a spectacular career -  ripped off his runners-up medal and the legendary Eusebio was left sobbing in the centre circle.

That heartbreak took 12 years to disappear. Like Greece, the did not entertain at Euro 2016 but they did make their way to the final against the hosts, France. Even with Ronaldo’s injury, one goal from Eder was enough to bring a trophy to Lisbon for the very first time. Tonight, they can take another step closer to making more history and banish the demons of Euro 2004 with a win on home soil.

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