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Hero’s welcome for Portugal after Euro 2016 triumph

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 Cristiano Ronaldo was taken off injured but Portugal still lifted the trophy.PHOTO/courtesy.

Cristiano Ronaldo was taken off injured but Portugal still lifted the trophy.PHOTO/courtesy.

LISBON, Portugal, July 11- Cristiano Ronaldo’s victorious Portugal prepared to return home to a triumphant welcome Monday after their shock 1-0 win over France in the European Championship final, the country’s first international title.

The Real Madrid superstar was stretchered off the Stade de France pitch in tears in the first half and could only watch from the sidelines as substitute Eder fired a thundering extra time winner to cap a month-long tournament of upsets.

The unexpected win over the heavily-fancied hosts sparked jubilant scenes in Lisbon, where tens of thousands of fans flooded the streets, dancing, singing and waving Portugal’s red and green flag.

The party was set to continue on Monday, with Ronaldo’s men expected to land at Lisbon airport at 12:15 pm (1115 GMT) and travel to to meet President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at his official residence before embarking on a parade through the streets of Lisbon.

“We are the best in Europe. We showed what we are made of: tough, united, able to overcome all difficulties including the blow of losing Cristiano Ronaldo,” Rebelo de Sousa said.

– Old wounds healed –

Portugal’s dreams of lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy looked to have taken a shattering blow when Ronaldo, their captain and talisman, fell to the ground in agony in the eighth minute following a clattering challenge from Dimitri Payet.

After twice going off for treatment and trying to come back, Ronaldo was definitively carried off, but for all France’s dominance Portugal stood firm thanks to man-of-the-match defender Pepe and a string of dramatic saves from goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

“It was not the final I wanted but I am very happy. It is a trophy for all Portuguese, for all immigrants, all the people who believed in us so I am very happy and very proud,” Ronaldo said after the win.

The victory marks a healing of sorts for Portugal after their shock defeat in the Euro 2004 final when they lost 1-0 to unfancied Greece in on home turf.

Luis Figo, who captained Portugal in that agonising defeat in Lisbon 12 years ago, congratulated the team on Twitter.

“CHAMPIONS! The greatest! Congratulations!” the former Inter Milan, Real and Barcelona star wrote.

Portugal’s sports press hailed the team on Monday with headlines including “Epic”, “Eternal” and “Pride of Portugal”.

Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos and the other players paid tribute to Ronaldo’s role in urging the team not to give up. Ronaldo returned from treatment at the end of 90 minutes to give pep talks to his teammates.

“He told me I was going to score the winning goal,” said Eder who plays for French side Lille and only went on in the 79th minute. “He gave me strength and positive energy.”

– Tears of pain, tears of joy –

Ronaldo’s tears of pain and anguish as he was carried off turned to tears of joy at the final whistle, and shrugging off his injured knee, the forward danced past reporters with other Portugal players as they left the stadium.

Portugal defended doggedly and threatened occasionally without their inspirational skipper. With 109 minutes gone, Eder beat off a Laurent Koscielny challenge to fire a shot from outside the penalty area that French captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris could not even get a hand to.

The tournament, expanded to 24 teams for the first time, produced a few memorable upsets but little in the way of classic football. And Lloris was the latest to raise questions about the manner of Portugal’s wins.

But he described France’s luck as “cruel” and added “one can always argue about the way they play, but they are efficient and you must congratulate them”.

France started the match as strong favourites after beating Germany 2-0 in the semi-final. Antoine Griezmann scored twice in that game to take his tournament tally to six — enough to win the Golden Boot award.

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