KEIR RADNEDGE in ST-DENIS: Pepe, Portugal’s no-nonsense central defender with more cards to his name than Doc Holliday, was voted man of the match by UEFA for his leadership in the new European champions’ 1-0 extra-time triumph over hosts France.
Pepe missed the semi-final victory over Wales through injury but bounced back with a rock-like performance in the heart of defence in the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
This was his second European triumph in two months after Real Madrid’s Champions League victory in May.
In delight, Pepe was then one of the first of the new champions to step out and put words to the actions of 120 remarkable minutes of the 1-0 extra-time vctory over hosts France in the Stade de France.
Pepe said: “There was a lot of suffering out there because it was so intense. We fought very hard but we always knew it was going to be tough.
“I said before the game that we have to work hard and be more humble than the other team. We were going to leave it all out there because we were representing Portugal. It’s a beautful country of immigrants and we represented every single one of them. They have taught us about sacrifice, how to work, and this goes to every one of them.
“It was tough, losing Cristiano Ronaldo because he is our main man – the man who could at any moment score a goal and make the difference – but God helped us and we were warriors on the pitch.
“When he said he couldn’t go on I tried to tell my team-mates that we had to win it for him, that we were going to fight for him and we managed it. We all fought hard – the medical team, the coaching staff, all the Portuguese people who were always behind us.
“At the break the boss surprised everyon with the way he moved the team around. It was like a Plan B. The substitutes were the right players who came on at the right time and we poured our blood, sweat and tears in to the pitch.
“We tried to represent our country as best we could and despite all the criticisms. It was very important for Portugal and for us. We wrote a brilliant new page in the book of Portuguese football history. None of us will ever forget this.”
Pepe went on to praise both manager Fernando Santos and the Portuguese federation for its work behind the scenes, in partcular with its youth sections.
He said: “Before the game I said that the boss was our leader but on the pitch we were all managers. The older players had to inspire the others. We had a lot of respect for France so we played our best game, a beautiful game and thankfully managed to obtain a positive result.
“The boss is a very intelligent man. He judged how to mix the young players with the more experienced players. From his first day two years ago he said the first goal was to qualify for the Euros and the second goal was to win it – and we managed both.
“This is not luck. This is the product of hard work. We listened and all pulled in the same direction. We were very focused and achieved our goal. It’s been an unforgetable evening – and a very good moment for Portugal.”
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