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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
Ronaldo strikes again

By Phil McNulty
Our man in Portugal

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari hugs Cristiano Ronaldo
The identity may be different - but it is once again a young man named Ronaldo who has brought glory to the new hero of Portugal Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Two years ago in Yokohama in Japan, it was the Brazilian version who put the World Cup on Scolari's roll of honour with both goals in the 2-0 win against Germany.

And when Portugal coach Scolari switched scenes to Lisbon's Alvalade Stadium on Wednesday, it was Ronaldo again who was the catalyst to take the flamboyant coach to the brink of another trophy.

This time is was Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United, who has come of age in Euro 2004 after a season of progression at Old Trafford.

He started the tournament on the substitutes' bench, but was swiftly promoted by the shrewd Scolari and has repaid his coach's confidence in full.

Ronaldo it was who eased the early tension in the semi-final against Holland by stealing in for the sort of glancing header that is destined to become another trademark alongside the over-elaborate step-overs and general show-boating.

We have done something historic that no Portuguese team has ever done.
Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari.
He was also involved the quick thinking that led to Maniche's second that sent Portugal into ectsasy and left Lisbon's streets jammed with traffic and echoing to the sound of car horns deep into the early hours.

Scolari, never a man to miss a gesture, brandished his wedding ring as he talked of the union with Portugal football federation president Gilberto Madail that now looks likely to take him through to the World Cup in Germany in 2006.

But it appears it is the marriage between Scolari and the very name Ronaldo that is made in heaven.

Ronaldo has grown into the tournament, improving as he has gone along - and even though he lost his compelling battle with England's Ashley Cole in the quarter-final, the way he never gave up the fight and kept coming back for more was worthy of credit.

So now the question is whether he can follow in the footsteps of his more illustrious namesake and win a major final for Scolari in the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

For Scolari, it was vindication for the criticism he has fought against since taking over - and as usual he was in no mood to dampen the celebrations.

He said: "It is a magical day for myself and Portugal. I want to thank the people of Portugal who have shown such support and warmth.

"And who do I prefer out of the Czech Republic and Greece? I would prefer it if neither of them were there and we could win without playing."

Figo emotional

There was redemption also for Luis Figo, named man of the match after the criticism he received for walking straight down the tunnel when substituted against England in the quarter-final.

He reacted like great players do - by delivering a performance that both inspired and perspired.

This modest and quiet hero of Portugal collapsed to the turf at the final whistle and was almost reduced to tears as he spoke afterwards. He said: "It is a fantastic moment for Portugal, our country and our football. We have done something historic that no Portuguese team has ever done.

"We played a wonderful game and should have killed the match off in the second half.

"It is difficult to describe how I felt because I have followed this objective with Portugal since we won the world under-21 championship in 1991 in Lisbon.

"I have worked since that day to be in a major final for my country, for the people and for the players. It is difficult to describe but I am very emotional."

It was also a night of raw emotion for Figo, for Scolari - who needs little or no encouragement to be emotional - and for Cristiano Ronaldo.

And on Sunday, if Portugal finally win the major trophy that has eluded them and clinch Euro 2004 victory, Figo may be ready to pass the standard to a new superstar and Brazilian Scolari can guide another Ronaldo to future greatness on the international stage.



Links to more Portugal stories


 

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