When Ronaldo mania gripped Leipzig | Football News - Hindustan Times
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When Ronaldo mania gripped Leipzig

By, Leipzig
Jun 22, 2024 03:07 PM IST

Leipzig, or Lisbon? It was hard to differentiate, as Ronaldo's Portugal visited the city for its opening match against Czech Republic in Euro 2024.

'Criiiistiano Ronaaaldo! Criiiistiano Ronaaaldo!'.

Supporters of Portugal hold an image of Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo in the tribune prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group F football match between Portugal and the Czech Republic at the Leipzig Stadium(AFP)
Supporters of Portugal hold an image of Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo in the tribune prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group F football match between Portugal and the Czech Republic at the Leipzig Stadium(AFP)

In the otherwise quiet city of Leipzig, the fervent chants dedicated to Portugal's iconic striker to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’ echoed through the tram and bus stations surrounding the Hauptbahnhof (central train station), resonating all the way to the Red Bull Arena and the Augustusplatz, the venue of UEFA's official Fan Zone. This city, home to RB Leipzig's traditional whites, was awash with the vibrant hues of Portugal's red and green, mingling with splashes of the Czech Republic's red and blue, too. Despite the determined support of Czech Republic fans, who painted the streets with their own national colours, the passionate adoration for Ronaldo was undeniable and often unyielding.

"I've come from Berlin. I had requested UEFA to allocate a seat alongside Portugal supporters. Now, I've left it to fate," an Indian student, Sandip, says while getting the Portugal flag's colours painted on his face. He spent the first 45 minutes sitting with Czech Republic fans and, in his own words, "survived" before jumping the stand to join the Portuguese. "It was one of the best experiences of my life. Watching Ronaldo in flesh and blood... amazing, really," he said after the game, now busy writing a long post on Facebook about how he made one of his bucket list dreams come true.

Also read Euro 2024: Ronaldo kept silent but Conceicao stars in Portugal's scratchy 2-1 win over Czech Republic

While Sandip watched Ronaldo for the first time, seasoned Portugal fans who travelled to Leipzig, too, were almost as equally excited about watching their legendary forward don the national colours in a major tournament again. "I think I'm way past the 'GOAT' debate. He is still contributing to us, and that is what matters. In the end, he represents us. He brings us joy and that's why we love him," Miguel, a Portuguese fan who travelled from Luxembourg to watch the game, says.

The Portuguese squad had touched down in the city on Monday, making their way to the Westin Hotel near the city centre. Fans gathered in large numbers to welcome the players. Their patience was rewarded on Tuesday morning when the players finally emerged to greet their supporters.

Ronaldo, as expected, was the star of the show. He signed autographs and shook hands with those waiting behind the fences and was among the last to leave.

It is fascinating to consider that only about a year and a half ago, there were earnest debates and even calls for Ronaldo to retire from international football.

During the 2022 FIFA World Cup, then-Portugal manager Fernando Santos surprised everyone by dropping Cristiano Ronaldo from his XI during the side's round-of-16 tie against Switzerland. Portugal registered an exemplary 6-1 win in the game, but Ronaldo was reinstated in the quarter-final, where they faced a shock defeat to Morocco. Amidst a tumultuous period in his club career, marked by a public feud with Erik ten Hag and his subsequent departure from Manchester United, Ronaldo's future with the national team seemed uncertain and bleak.

However, Roberto Martinez, who was appointed Portugal's manager after Santos's departure, reimagined Ronaldo's role in the side and helped him unlock again, using his goalscoring instincts to optimum effect throughout the Euro qualifiers. Ronaldo eventually ended as the side's highest goalscorer in the qualification rounds, with 10 goals to his name. Naturally, he retained captaincy and now continues to lead Portugal in the continental tournament, where the side aims for a repeat of 2016, where it defeated France in the final.

Down in Augustusplatz, the atmosphere was electric hours before the clash between the two teams. Supporters from both nations revelled in a rare sunny day in the city, even when it is supposed to peak in summer during this time.

Also read Out of position, but hardly out of place: Bruno Fernandes steps up for Portugal again

Ronaldo jerseys from various stages of the forward's celebrated career were common sights throughout the city of Leipzig. This picture shows the entrance to Augustusplatz, the sight for Euro fan zone. (Rishabh Gupta)
Ronaldo jerseys from various stages of the forward's celebrated career were common sights throughout the city of Leipzig. This picture shows the entrance to Augustusplatz, the sight for Euro fan zone. (Rishabh Gupta)

One of the biggest squares in Germany, Augustusplatz, was converted into the fan zone days before the start of the tournament, housing a capacity of nearly 15,000 fans. Inside the zone is a small football pitch where competitions are held daily for kids, and two large screens are put on either side for fans to enjoy the Euro games. Overhead, a massive umbrella stretches across the field, providing shelter from the sun and, this summer, from the rain, ensuring the fans' comfort regardless of the weather.

"The Leipzig fan zone offers all football fans public viewing but will also host the Euro 2024 Festival for 30 days, meaning there will be performances by national and local artists every day," Project manager Stefan Schedler says.

Ahead of the game between Portugal and the Czech Republic, the Manolo and the Gypsies created an infectious vibe with their renditions of Portuguese pop hits. The band also delighted the crowd with its unique version of "Bella Ciao," the beloved Italian anti-fascist anthem.

Cristiano Ronaldo's iconic status was unmistakable here, too, as a group of fervent Portugal fans proudly paraded a life-sized cutout of the football legend. Many fans gathered around, striking poses and mimicking his famous 'SIUUU' celebration. A few meters away was Portugal's dedicated fan zone, where an interactive Ronaldo header game had been set up. A ball was suspended at the highest height Ronaldo had ever reached to score a header, challenging fans to match his impressive leap. Laughter echoed through the area as many tried and failed, tumbling to the ground in their attempts. Nevertheless, many rose with a laugh at their expense, enthusiastically unfurling the iconic 'SIUUU'.

Ronaldo was not on target during Portugal's first match, missing chances that he would usually bury with relative ease on most occasions. But Martinez and Portugal's fans also know that the forward's undisputed instinct for goalscoring always makes him a threat, particularly in major tournaments where every goal and point matters.

His Portugal side will return to action on Saturday as it takes on Turkey in another important match. Once again, Martinez has placed his faith in Ronaldo, and thousands of Portugal fans will rally behind their star player.

Their collective wish, beyond a victory for their country, was perfectly encapsulated by a fan in Augustusplatz on Tuesday: “We want to do the collective SIUUU at the stadium.”

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