Portugal’s Euro Cup Victory and the Lord of the Rings Have More In Common Than You’d Think

Midway through the 2001 franchise-birthing film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey finds himself imprisoned hopelessly atop Orthanc, the black tower of Isengard, at the hand of his former-friend-turned-agent-of-Sauron, Saruman. There is a vital fight going on, with the fate of Middle Earth hanging in the balance, but Gandalf finds himself trapped on the sidelines, unable to contribute in any meaningful way.

Cut to the real world. It’s Sunday at the Stade de France in Paris. In the eighth minute of the European Championship final, Portugal’s own magic man, Cristiano Ronaldo, is taken down by a knee-on-knee challenge from French star Dimitri Payet. Surely in Ronaldo’s mind (and the mind of most of the players on the Portugal bench, and their many fans around the world), Portugal’s only shot at winning its first-ever major international tournament depends on having their all-time leading scorer on the field. So he tries to walk it off, but — much like when Gandalf finds himself on the losing side of a wizard’s duel against a wild-eyed Christopher Lee — the pain is too great. Eight minutes later, Ronaldo collapses in agony.

Then, just as our heroes reach their lowest points, a moth comes to the rescue.

For Gandalf, the appearance of a moth permits him to arrange his rescue on the back of a giant eagle, allowing him to reunite with Frodo and join the titular Fellowship.

As for Ronaldo, the nature of the moth’s assistance is less clear cut, but the result — Portugal’s first major championship — speaks for itself.

For those of us who didn’t commune with a tiny winged creature, however, things appeared grim for Portugal. Ronaldo, hitherto the soccer world’s preeminent snivelling primadonna, tore off his captain’s armband and was carted off the field. Surrounded by thousands of rabid French fans and without their talismanic superstar, the Portuguese were hopelessly outnumbered and overpowered — not unlike the Riders of Rohan at the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. But, instead of deadly orc and Uruk-hai, Portugal’s remaining players found themselves facing down the likes of tournament leading scorer Antoine Griezmann, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, the speedy Kingsley Coman— who was clocked sprinting a Euro-best 32.8 km/h— and, of course, “Knee Smasher” Dimitri Payet.

Thanks in part to an ineffectual French attack, however, the Portuguese stayed in the game. After fending off a late French charge during stoppage time, who was it pulling another sweet Gandalf move and returning to his squad’s sideline just in time for the extra period? Ronaldo. He was there for his team, and was happier than anyone else in the stadium when late substitute Éder buried a distinctly Ronaldo-esque solo effort from way outside. In fact, Éder, who had never previously scored in a competitive match for Portugal, claims Ronaldo told him he would fire home the winning goal during a rallying speech before extra time. Magic.

Who could have predicted that Ronaldo, who has so often been branded as selfish and egotistical, would go that extra mile for his teammates and countrymen at that critical juncture? Perhaps Forbes’ highest-paid athlete has a future as the world’s highest-paid head coach.

As they went to bed Sunday night, Ronaldo’s many detractors were given something to think about after he selflessly lauded the efforts of his teammates in their 1-0 win. Of course, they then woke up Monday to news that he had clung to the championship trophy for the entirety of his team’s plane ride home. Same old Ronaldo. In his defence, his three goals and three assists earlier in the tournament did play a large role in Portugal even reaching the final So, when you look at it that way, it sort of is his trophy after all.

His… precious.