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The sight of Luís Figo locked in an emotional embrace with Rui Costa for more than a minute after the final whistle told its own story. Just days earlier, the Portuguese captain had trudged disconsolately from the field, substituted against England with Portugal seemingly heading out of the tournament and Figo's international career over.
He had been roundly criticised for refusing to join the celebrations after that match, but tonight Figo rolled back the years and was a deserving winner of the Carlsberg Man of the Match award as Portugal reached the final of a major tournament for the first time.
Golden boys celebrate
That it was Rui Costa, an unused replacement in this match, in whom he sought solace was poignant, for with squad captain Fernando Couto, who came on five minutes from the end, they are the only three survivors of Portugal's so-called 'golden generation' who were world youth champions 13 years ago to the day.
Figo so proud
"It's difficult to explain with one word the emotion we feel right now," Figo told BBC TV afterwards. "It is really a proud moment for us especially here in Portugal in front of our own fans. We cannot wish anything more than for us to be in the final. We suffered a little in the second half, but we had the best chances to score more goals. We suffered in order to get to the final whistle, but in the end the important thing is the result.
'Happy for Portugal'
"Portugal have fantastic players and Portugal also have young players and the country needs to be happy for the future as we have a great team developing. For me, personally, there is a lot of pressure but if you want to play at the highest level you have be able to cope with the pressure. But I am happy with the performance and I am happy for Portugal. Now we must recuperate. We did a lot of work, and people can enjoy it and celebrate tonight."
It was a player from the opposite end of the age spectrum, 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, who opened the scoring for Portugal, heading home at close range from a corner. Maniche then scored one of the goals of the tournament, curling home a shot from 25 metres. "It was a great goal, but the most important was our victory," said the FC Porto player. "It has been a great season for me. I don't care who is going to play us at the final, we must think about ourselves."
Jorge Andrade's own goal soon afterwards set the alarm bells ringing, but in the end it was not costly. "This could have been an important match in the history of Portuguese football, and it was," said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. "I congratulate the players, they deserve it for their dedication. The vibrancy and the emotions are great. Now we must celebrate with the players. We deserve to be in the final. Also congratulations to the Portuguese people, as their support was fantastic."
Scolari's opposite number Dick Advocaat deflected criticism of his side's forwards and instead rued the Netherlands' lack of fluidity in general. "It's not only about the strikers," said the Dutch coach. "It's about the movement of the team and tonight it wasn't there. The best team won."
"It's a sickening feeling," said Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooij. "It's really hard. We came back to 2-1 but it couldn't be. Portugal had great chances. It was difficult to come to good football and that's why we had so little chances. The second half was better. Portugal rightly went ahead. But we came back. Portugal also had more chances and were leading deservedly."
Asked if he felt Portugal were the better team, he said: "That's now difficult to say. Perhaps when I had time to think this over, I have to agree they were better. It's bitter. We gave everything. But we can look everyone right in the eyes in this tournament. The unity has become better. We reached the semi-final, but our goal was to reach the final. It's a bitter pill."
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