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Original Issue

Crying Cristiano

Pain and joy in Paris

TWELVE YEARS AGO, 19-year-old Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo was reduced to tears.

He'd missed his best opportunities in the Euro 2004 final and was forced to watch Greece, in all its defensive glory and aesthetic deficiency, lift the European Championship trophy in his home country. A brash, dynamic talent on the rise, Ronaldo vowed to win for Portugal one day and "make up for this huge disappointment."

That day came on Sunday in Paris, where Portugal beat France 1--0 in extra time for its first major international trophy. Again, the tears flowed from Ronaldo, several times and for wildly different reasons. The first tears came in the 17th minute of the Euro 2016 final, when the lingering effects of a crunching tackle by Dimitri Payet made real the unthinkable: Ronaldo would be forced out of the biggest game of his international career. More tears came at the final whistle, when Éder's 109th-minute goal secured Portugal's unlikely triumph and fulfilled Ronaldo's vow.

Ronaldo may not have been on the field, but he made an impact. He paced and gestured in the coach's box during extra time, alongside stout tactician and level-headed manager Fernando Santos. And Éder, a substitute and improbable hero, claimed that "Cristiano told me that I would score when I came on." For a player whose abundance of self-love inspires haters from all corners of the globe, Ronaldo made his leadership qualities clear.

There's plenty of irony--but also symmetry--in the sight of Ronaldo, the captain, lifting the trophy after a defensive-minded, team-oriented Portugal beat the host nation effectively without him. There are also plenty of critics of Portugal's presence in the final, given that the country finished third in its group. But Portugal didn't write the rules of the newly expanded, 24-team Euros; it simply played by them. If anything, the lack of memorable matches and the reward for "negative"—read, defensive—play is a warning sign for FIFA, which is considering expanding the World Cup to 40 teams.

The manner in which this Euro title was achieved is of no consequence to Ronaldo. His tears tell a new story, one of joy, accomplishment and redemption.