It’s only been a month since Portugal’s last match, and already March 29th seems so far away. For anyone who is as big a fan of the Seleção as I am, you know what I’m talking about.

The withdrawal pangs begin in earnest as soon as the emotional intensity of an international fixture drains away. I would launch into a tirade about how the emotional “high” of watching Portugal is aggravated by their propensity to underachieve, but I digress.

During these international fixture droughts, I often contemplate the many fond memories that have collected over the years. By that, of course, I mean I hop on Youtube and do my best to relive each and every moment. For example, a couple weeks ago I watched a video compilation of every goal that Cristiano Ronaldo has scored for Portugal. I also watched a short clip from a documentary about Euro 2004, an especially bitter moment in Portugal’s footballing history.

I’m always left intrigued by the manner in which the most uplifting moments coalesce with the moments of despair, forming a tapestry of football culture that is instantly recognizable to every fan of the unique Portuguese “brand.”

There are those that claim that every goal tells its own story. Sometimes a single goal leaves behind such a mark on history that it might even change how we think of the sport itself. To envision such a goal can almost produce a physical reaction. Sometimes it’s a feeling of euphoria when thinking of a winning goal, or a bitter taste when imagining a goal scored by an opponent. Maradona’s “hand of God” goal is one such example of a goal that can produce a wide range of emotional responses depending on the context.

Portugal’s own footballing narrative is replete with such moments, at least for me. In tribute, I’ve shared some of my favourite experiences, games, and goals from 2006 onwards as a way of relating how these have connected me to the Portuguese game.

 

25 June 2006 Portugal 1-0 Netherlands

In an otherwise combative affair dubbed “The Battle of Nuremberg,” Maniche’s 23rd minute thunderbolt stood out as one of the goals of the 2006 World Cup and sent Portugal marching into the quarterfinals. It was while watching this edition of the World Cup that I fell in love with Portuguese football. The visceral power and expert precision of the strike perfectly symbolized Portugal’s dynamic and exciting brand of attacking football which earned the Seleção the “Most Exciting Team” award for the World Cup 2006.

 

24 March 2007 Portugal 4-0 Belgium

This is perhaps the match that everyone remembers as the prototype for what could have (and should have) been for the Seleção. Yes, I’m talking about the famous victory in which Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma wreaked absolute havoc on the visiting Belgians at the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon. In a sensational match, Quaresma scored an outrageous goal (his first for Portugal) from the edge of the penalty area with his trademark “outside of the boot” technique.

Tragically, this game marked a distinct turning point in the careers of Ronaldo and Quaresma. Cristiano would go on to win the Ballon d’Or for the first time that season while Quaresma’s club career steadily deteriorated. As spells with Inter Milan, Chelsea, and Besiktas ended in abject failure, Quaresma featured less and less for the Seleção, and has only scored once for the national team since 2008. Today, discussions between fans of the Seleção regarding the lost potential of Ricardo Quaresma, and the spectacle of what might have been if he had reached his potential, remain commonplace.

 

5 September 2009 Denmark 1-1 Portugal

This match had the look of a feisty encounter from the onset. Portugal was floundering in World Cup 2010 qualifying and in dire need of points to stay ahead of Sweden in the race for a playoff spot.  Portugal had already been beaten at home by the Danes and followed that performance with a shocking 0-0 draw with Albania. After another 0-0 draw with Sweden, Portugal were absolutely desperate, and it took a very late Bruno Alves header against Albania to even give Portugal  something worth fighting for in Copenhagen.

What I remember most about this match was the sheer volume of squandered chances. The Seleção dominated play from the opening whistle, but couldn’t find their way through in front of a full stadium of hostile supporters. Nicklas Bendtner scored the opener against the run of play and the stage was set for an epic and agonizing second half. What ensued in that final 45 minutes can best be described as both legendary and unbelievable. Prior to Liedson’s dramatic 86th minute equalizer, Portugal threw absolutely everything they had at the Danes. This was perhaps best epitomized by a desperate goalmouth scramble that even Cristiano Ronaldo could not finish off. The Seleção took over 30 shots in the game, perhaps 15 of them on goal. It was true reckless abandon, raw entertainment.

I have to make one final comment about this game that I think bears testimony to a phenomenon that true fans of the Seleção can understand. I’m talking about the extent to which the team’s profligacy in front of goal is a part of our footballing identity. It is a distinct attribute of our game that we joke about, and something that we also cry about. Something we despise, and yet a feature of our game that binds us emotionally, whatever the final result may be. Over time, watching one’s team squander countless opportunities can create a veritable tempest of emotions that deeply attaches us as fans to our national side. This paradox, much like how tragic plays, movies, and stories can be so endearing, is difficult to explain, but is something that Portugal fans can understand.

For me, this ideal was made manifest as I watched our team struggle and ultimately come away with a crucial point in Copenhagen. What a match. 

 

21 June 2010 Portugal 7-0 North Korea

Many will remember the notorious 7-0 beatdown of the upstart North Koreans in the 2010 World Cup for the “goals are like ketchup” comment made by Cristiano Ronaldo before the game. Portugal’s captain was responding to a question about the team’s failure to score against the Ivory Coast in their opening group match when he made the analogy.

The Koreans had perhaps overstated their ambition to beat Portugal and thus avenge their 5-3 loss at the hands of Eusébio and co. in the 1966 World Cup. Their brave words, having built to a crescendo, came crashing down on them in the rain of Cape Town as the Seleção replied with a ruthless performance. This match stands in stark contrast to the previously discussed game against Denmark in terms of efficiency in front of goal. At times in the second half it seemed as if every attack would lead to a goal. In the end, those who watched the game will agree that 7-0 was probably more merciful than it was just. Ronaldo by himself could have scored several more goals including a ferociously struck effort that crashed against the woodwork.

Sadly, Portugal wouldn’t score another goal in the entire tournament and were knocked out in the round of 16 by eventual champions Spain.

 

17 November 2010 Portugal 4-0 Spain

Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so the saying goes. Whatever the case may be, Portugal battered the world champions in a way that was simply historic. In an unprecedented era of dominance, Spain lost a grand total of four matches between 7 February 2007 and the date this match was played. That’s four matches in nearly 4 years of play. It was also Spain’s worst defeat since a 6-2 humbling at the hands of Scotland in 1963.

This game hearkened back to earlier times in the history of the Seleção full of swashbuckling and often brash attacking intent. As is usually the case, Ronaldo’s play galvanized the team. The referee’s decision to incorrectly rule out his spectacularly chipped goal only seemed to enrage the Seleção. Even the 4-0 scoreline fails to tell the whole story. Ultimately, the result was so one-sided that Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas would go on to say that it was a “match where we can’t take anything positive” and that the team “needs to apologise to the fans.”

 

15 November 2011 Portugal 6-2 Bosnia

Sometimes everything just clicks. That’s certainly one way to describe how Portugal dismantled the visiting Bosnians in the second leg of their Euro 2012 playoff tie. Having drawn 0-0 in Zenica, there were some who thought that Portugal’s luck would run out against the likes of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic. But it wasn’t to be as Portugal put in perhaps their best team performance of all time.

Cristiano Ronaldo certainly played a leading role by scoring a brace, one an electrifying 8th minute free kick, but it was the collective efforts of the team that shone brightest at the Estadio da Luz. After Nani put Portugal 2-0 up with a screamer from 25 yards, Bosnia gave Portugal a scare until the oft-maligned Helder Postiga and Miguel Veloso put the game on ice, the latter with a beautifully curled free kick.

 

17 June 2012 Portugal 2-1 Netherlands

This is the match that I often speak of in hushed tones. It still raises the hair on my neck to even think of it. I remember everything about it. I could go on and on about my experience at the Euros, but this game is not my favourite of all time just because of my personal adventure at Euro 2012. I remember it in the context of how many people thought Portugal would fail in that tournament’s Group of Death. The vast majority of public opinion, including that of many Portugal fans, was firmly convinced in the build up to Poland/Ukraine 2012 that the team didn’t stand a chance against Germany, and a Netherlands team that had been perfect in qualifying until their final, meaningless match against Sweden. Portugal by comparison had once again underachieved in qualifying and was winless in four of its last five matches dating back to the pre-tournament friendlies.

The divine performance that transpired in Kharkiv was motivated in part by the constant drivel being directed at the team from all corners of the footballing globe. The English press, notorious for its tendency to devalue all other national sides but its own, had by this time piled a heaping burden of responsibility on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo for his subpar performances against Denmark and Germany.

After Rafael Van Der Vaart opened the scoring, I watched on the edge of my seat as my beloved Portugal absolutely mauled their opponents for the remaining 79 minutes of the match. Ronaldo was at the centre of it all, hitting the post twice, scoring a brace, and taking every opportunity afforded to him to demonstrate that he was not to be written off so easily.

Though the hope of glory was extinguished once again by Spain, this match will always stand out in my memory as one of the finest performances of this generation.

 

19 November 2013 Sweden 2-3 Portugal 

When Portugal travelled to the outskirts of Stockholm with a 1-0 lead in their playoff tie against Sweden, I have to admit that I encountered some doubt regarding our chances of progressing to the World Cup. For once, I thought maybe this would be the moment when our prior luck in tournament playoffs would run out.

As he has done throughout his entire career, Cristiano Ronaldo silenced my doubts and those of the rest of the world by putting in a legendary hat-trick performance that left the Swedish fans in disbelief. Though some of the glory must be shared with Joao Moutinho, who excelled at finding Ronaldo with key passes, it was Portugal’s talisman that shattered all expectations once again.

When I watch video of this match I’m particularly moved by Ronaldo’s second goal. At a time in the match when Portugal was in danger of collapse, Ronaldo harnessed his exceptional pace to run onto Hugo Almeida’s throughball. But it’s that finish….that absolutely brutal, merciless finish into the bottom right corner that always leaves its mark on me. It’s exactly that blend of surgical precision and raw power that has turned Ronaldo into the most lethal goalscorer of his age.

 

10 June 2014 Portugal 5-1 Ireland

This game had little meaning, if any. But on a personal level, it was a match that I greatly enjoyed nonetheless. Ronaldo’s return to the line-up following his lengthy absence due to knee issues built up my hopes to a level that was ultimately irrational. Regardless of what eventually transpired in the World Cup weeks later, Portugal’s display against the Irish remains a stirring example of everything I love about the Seleção. It was here that I bore witness to the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen in person; a goal scored by Nani that was so cruelly declared offside in the end. Find it on Youtube, it is a masterpiece.

 

I hope during this holiday season you’ve enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane. 2015 draws near and with it comes the fresh hope of being another year closer to seeing our Seleção bring home its first major championship. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

by Nathan Motz

 

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  • Guest - SupremoGino

    Some historical matches and goals listed here from 2006 onwards but in my opinion when speaking about Selecao nostalgia, Euro 2004 just cannot go unmentioned. For instance, Nuno Gomes' goal vs. Spain, Portugal-England match that ended in a shootout (our own goalkeeper Ricardo scoring the winner) and Maniche's goal from the corner flag vs. Holland were true memorable moments. Going back to 2000, Luis Figo's stunning goal where he picked the ball up from halfway and flew it into the top corner that sparked an incredible 3-2 comeback win over England.

    The one match we unfortunately lost which would've been one of the all time greatest memories had we pulled it off was on June 27th, 2012 where our guys played their hearts out eventually losing in the penalty shootout verses Spain. The euphoria of a victory that sweet would've last a life time.

    P.S Nuno Gomes airplane goal in the 2006 third place match was phenomenal.

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  • Guest - Jordao8

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    What a fantastic trip down memory lane indeed. I remember vividly celebrating each of these World Cup and Euro victories wildly into the night. I'd like to add Portugal's SO victory over England in both the Quarter Finals of Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006. Ricardo saving and then scoring in 2004 was insane, a feat I don't see being repeated by anyone in the future! Ronaldo scoring the winner past Paul Robinson in 2006 and pointing to the heavens still gives me chills when I watch it again.. thanks for the memories Selecao!

    from Toronto, ON, Canada
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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    Nice article highlighting some of the Selecao's best performances in recent years. Totally true that profligacy is our huge problem (we would've surely won a tournament by now if it wasn't for that weakness), but in terms of sheer entertainment value few other international sides can compare with the Selecao at it's best.

    A few other games I would add: the 2-0 friendly win over Brasil in London in 2006, when Quaresma and CR7 absolutely tore the opposing defense to shreds, both giving a masterclass of audacious technical ability. Anyone who wants to see just what Portuguese football possesses that few other (and no other European) teams do, need only watch the extended highlights of that match and of those two players in particular. The two matches with England, in Euro 2004 and in WC 2006 deserve special mention. The 2004 match in particular had everything, a true classic. Two years later the rematch wasn't as exciting and finished goalless, but was still very dramatic and finished in further euphoria for the Selecao.

    To this day though, the best Selecao I've personally ever seen was the Euro 2000 team of Humberto Coelho. That was the one tournament when we were the best team there without any argument in my opinion. The rare days when we actually played with two central strikers, and two good ones: Nuno Gomes and Joao Pinto. Figo and Conceicao on the flanks and Rui Costa and Paulo Sousa in the middle. Quite simply an awesome midfield and attack. There were some big highlights: the comeback win against England in the opener, humiliating the Germans 3-0 in the final group match with our reserve team and knocking them out. We really should've won that tournament, the French defended like crazy in the semi and got a lucky penalty for Xavier's handball (could've easily been viewed as ball to hand) a few minutes from the end of extra time to deny us a place in the final. Nonetheless that was the tournament in which the Selecao really "arrived" in modern times after many previous years of anonymity, and it hasn't really looked back since.

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  • Guest - Voice of Reason

    I have to agree with SupremoGino

    The goal Figo scored against England to lead the charge back from a 2-0 deficit is my favourite goal of all time and one I will never, ever, ever forget. That right there is what Portugal is all about - it is what I wish we could get back to. The feeling that no matter the score, we were never out of a game.

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  • Guest - Frank

    That Euro 96 Game where Figo scored that goal was amazing against England, it is my favorite Portugal game of all time! Not to mention, Figo shot that ball through Tony Adams legs!!! The most beautiful display of football by the Portuguese squad! Constant movement off the ball, options for a pass everywhere....just beautiful!

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  • Guest - Victor

    Agreed with SupremoGino also with Figo's amazing goal, the timing couldn't have been better I believe it was early in the 2nd half to start that amazing come back, and what a screamer of a shot!! Also an important goal I remember was from Carlos Manuel 1985 I think qualifying match in West Germany. No team entering West Germany at that time ever won a qualifying game and Portugal had to win to goto WC Mexico/86. That shot from Carlos Manuel (nothing like Figo's blast) but it was a curling shot looked to going high and wide but somehow it pulled down and the great Shumacher can only watch that ball go in the top corner. That goal was HUGE for little Portugal , as they won the game and being the first European country ever to beat them at home.

    from Toronto, ON, Canada
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  • Guest - SupremoGino

    Wait a minute.. The All Mighty Voice of Reason agreeing with me?! What a perfect start to the New Year. Happy New years to you buddy! :)

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  • Guest - Kevin

    2-1 win vs the dutch. A friend of mine who isn't a football fan by any stretch of the imagination was amazed by how Ronaldo could dominate a match so thoroughly. He was absolutely impressed by Ronaldo saying that he didn't think one player could dominate a football match to that extent. I watch that game over and over again his performance in that match for me is right there with his performance against Sweden.

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  • Guest - Val

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    All fantastic memories! If anything Portugal produces high drama like no other country.

    I agree with all but Andre/UK really nailed it for me. That Euro 2000 team was/is the best team we have produced. The B-squad beat Germany 3-0 in a nothing game for Portugal. It is unfortunate how it all ended and UEFA and then FIFA did change the hand ball rule after that game, too late for Portugal.

    That doesn't take away from their quality. The goals scored by that squad were off the charts. Not only the Figo bomba, but lets not forget the Nuno Gomes goal v England and France. Rui Costa was a maestro in mid, making ridiculous passes that lead to many of the goals. The way they tore apart the Germans is also of note. When was the last time we saw Portugal go into a game with Germany and attack for 90 minutes? They came at Germany in waves and the score line was flattering.

    The other goal which rocked me was Nuno Gomes v Spain at Euro 2004. I remember it still so clearly, Nuno Gomes got the pass up from Deco and then Maniche only to spin around, fake a kick a few times and hammer it home to the bottom corner and everyone went nuts. Nuno Matos could not get the words out, I think the guys in the broadcast booth were jumping and hugging.

    Rui Costa v England in 2004 also deserves a word. He the entire length of the pitch, threw his defender to the ground and struck the ball top corner on a helpless David James.

    from Peniche, Portugal
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