Scoring at a UEFA Futsal EURO finals is nothing but special but the image of Cardinal on his knees celebrating his goal for Portugal in the 5-0 win against the Netherlands on Thursday displayed more than just the rush of the moment.
The only player competing in Antwerp without a club, the 28-year-old forward played his first competitive match since June against the Dutch, following surgery on his left ankle. Cardinal's hard work and coach Jorge Braz's faith in his full recovery were fully rewarded with his 48th international goal, putting Portugal on track for a place in the quarter-finals from Group B.
"It was a very special moment for me because I was sidelined for a long time, I had to endure several months away from the game," Cardinal told UEFA.com." It was very emotional and I can only describe scoring that goal as a unique feeling. I will never forget it."
Cardinal will play an even more important role for Portugal in Monday's quarter-final against Ukraine following the news that Joel Queirós will be sidelined with a foot injury, but few would have predicted such a scenario just a few months ago.
"I had a club [Rio Ave FC] at the start of the season but due to my serious injury it was decided to end my contract," he said. "I arrived at this EURO without a club, which is not normal, but I knew that if I was fully fit, as is the case now, I wouldn't have any problems in finding a new club. Luckily that has happened already but I will wait for the end of the tournament to announce where I am going to play."
Braz has been crucial in Cardinal's revival and the former Sporting Clube de Portugal and MFK CSKA Moskva star only has words of praise for his coach. "Braz was always on top of my injury and I spent the last three weeks before the team for the finals was announced training with them. He could see I was in a very good physical condition, so he decided to pick me, which proves the kind of confidence he has in me. It felt really good because of all the hard work I put during those weeks."
Portugal's mission in Belgium has received an important boost in the form of impressive support from their fans. Cardinal is quick to highlight their extra help and just hopes he and his colleagues are able to give something back. "Our fans have been fantastic. Sometimes it even feels like we are playing at home and all I can do is to thank them for all the help they have been giving us. We only plan to go back to Portugal on 9 February and, if possible, we will do so as European champions."
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