He will always be the primus inter pares Galactico – which probably sounds weirdly sci-fi to anyone under 20 – but Luis Figo fell tantalisingly short of his greatest goal: international gold. Still, Captain Portugal’s legacy would endure.
England felt the force of that Figo drive at Euro 2000. Back then he was halfway through the ballsiest transfer ever, from Barcelona to Real Madrid, but shook off any distractions pretty sharpish.
Future Blanco team-mate David Beckham made two quick England goals, so an exasperated Figo grasped the nettle, surged through the midfield and angrily smashed one past David Seaman. Portugal won 3-2, topped the group and were only stopped by a French golden goal penalty in the semi-finals. They were furious.
Meanwhile, Figo hit prime form at club level: he was the assist-making heart of that glam Madrid team, tirelessly feinting past the world’s best defenders. He won the Ballon d’Or in 2000, World Player of the Year in 2001, and – with six goals in nine qualifiers – was regarded by many as the world’s best player when Japan/Korea 2002 loomed.
But Madrid’s overreliance on individual superstars really sapped the stamina; both Figo and Zinedine Zidane laboured as Portugal and France went straight home.
Portugal nearly messed up their own tournament too, until Figo led the revival. The Selecao lost 2-1 to Greece in the Euro 2004 opener, but Figo assumed the captaincy, switched to a central role and powered his country to the final.
Destiny called, but sadly that creator-heavy side lacked a cutting edge. Greece mugged them once again.
His influence remained even after hanging up his boots in 2006, having finished fourth at the World Cup in Germany. Portugal would win the Euros eventually, though.
“Like any kid with dreams of being a footballer, I wanted to be Luis Figo,” admitted his successor Cristiano Ronaldo. He took his No.7 shirt, too.
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