Ronaldo comforts disconsolate Pepe as Portugal’s veterans make cruel exit at Euro 2024

Ronaldo comforts disconsolate Pepe as Portugal’s veterans make cruel exit at Euro 2024

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Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after losing a quarter final match between Portugal and France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 5, 2024. France won a penalty shoot out 4-3 after the match ended in a 0-0 draw. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

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Portugal’s goalkeeper Diogo Costa, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo, from left, react after losing a quarter final match between Portugal and France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 5, 2024. France won a penalty shoot out 4-3 after the match ended in a 0-0 draw. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

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Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, right, embraces Pepe at the end of a quarter final match against France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, second left, embraces Pepe at the end of a quarter final match against France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — This time, they weren’t Cristiano Ronaldo’s tears.

Instead, the Portugal superstar’s role was to console a weeping teammate after a painful exit from their last European Championship — and, who knows, potentially their final major international tournament.

Pepe, a defender still excelling for his country at the remarkable age of 41, was dejected as he sobbed on the shoulder of Ronaldo in a embrace lasting about 15 seconds following Portugal’s penalty-shootout loss to France in the quarterfinals in Hamburg on Friday.

Two Portugal stalwarts. A combined age of 80. It was quite the sight.

“Soccer is very cruel,” Pepe said.

Ronaldo cried himself at Euro 2024 — after having a penalty saved during extra time of the last-16 match against Slovenia just four days ago. He cried at the 2022 World Cup after Portugal lost to Morocco in the quarterfinals.

Maybe he was out of tears, because this time he simply looked into the sky, appearing to be disappointed and rueful.

Ronaldo will be 41 when the next major tournament rolls around — the 2026 World Cup, jointly held by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Can he stick around until then?

Well, he is still captain of his country — the holder of a men’s record 130 international goals and 212 international appearances.

He is still churning out full games for his country. The only time he didn’t complete a match at Euro 2024 was in the group stage against Georgia, when he came off in the 66th minute with Portugal assured of advancing. He played the entire 120 minutes against Slovenia and France.

And he still clearly commands the respect of his teammates and coach, Roberto Martinez.

Yet Ronaldo, who now plays his club soccer out of the global spotlight in Saudi Arabia, has now gone eight games without a goal in major tournaments. That takes in all five of Portugal’s matches at Euro 2024 and its final three at the World Cup in Qatar.

He was almost completely shackled by France center backs William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano, with Ronaldo’s only clear chance coming in extra time when he finally escaped his marker but couldn’t hook a shot on target from a cross from the right.

Ronaldo converted his penalty in the shootout but it wasn’t enough, And then he had to take on the role of comforter for Pepe.

“I won’t say it publicly,” Pepe told TV station Canal 11, when asked what Ronaldo said to him. “But we feel it a lot. Contrary to what many people think, we feel it a lot.

“We feel the frustration of not winning a game, of being eliminated in such a big competition as the European Championship, knowing that we had a lot of quality to go through. That’s the pain we feel.”

Portugal coach Roberto Martinez echoed those thoughts, saying “the tears are tears of frustration.”

“When you play against better opposition, there are no tears but this is hard to accept,” he said.

Martinez added that Ronaldo had yet to make a call about his international future, saying things were “too raw” and that Portugal was “suffering a defeat as a team — there are no individual decisions at this point.”

Pepe was slightly more open, even if he still left things unclear about his future.

“I will have the opportunity to speak in the future,” he said. “I don’t want to speak about it (now) because tomorrow people might be speaking about my future instead of talking about this process.”

Ronaldo finishes his European Championship career on a record 14 goals. That’s five more than his nearest rival, Michel Platini, who scored all of his at one tournament — Euro 1984 — including two hat tricks.

Ronaldo is the only player to go to six editions of the European Championship. He had scored at each one before arriving in Germany.

Euro 2024, however, proved a tournament too far.

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