YOU were down and out so early, too early in the game. Down and out at the very moment your country needed you most. I pitied you. I was sad for you. I cried for you.
The tears in your eyes drew tears in my own eyes, just like your mother’s tears. Just like the tears of the whole of Portugal, crying for the untimely exit of their most valuable player.
Tears like the tears of death. So bitter. So painful. Like the pain of your mother giving birth to you, naming you Cristiano, not knowing what you will become in life.
Like in death, they stretchered you out of the field of play amid the standing ovation of hands clapping in their millions in and out of the field. It was a terrible moment. It was a sad moment for football. But just when everyone had lost hope that the “Messiah” of Portugal was gone and defeat was imminent, God showed up to resurrect you and give your country the one heart-breaking goal, the one victory you longed for, you prayed for but never expected.
The miracle working God did it once again, just like He did many years ago, when His only begotten Son was at the point of defeat, nailed to the cross and killed but He reversed the irreversible. He brought His Son back to life in triumph, victorious, putting death to shame.
The logic of the world last Sunday was that France would win. Everything pointed to la victoire— a French victory. But God had His own logic. Because His ways are not like our ways. His thoughts are not like our thoughts. He sees the things no man can see. He turns the impossible into possible. He makes a way where there is no way. That is why He is God, He is Jehovah Ebenezer—the stone of help.
I was one of those who had tipped France to win. When you simply analyse the flowchart, you can’t but be impressed with the way the French had played so far, compared to the Portuguese that were lackadaisical and who relied solely on their football “Jesus” to win and deliver to them the elusive cup, the Holy Grail.
Everything was on the side of France, history was on the side of France, the crowd was on the side of France. But then God gave victory to the underdog this time around. Just like David slew Goliath in the Bible.
Ironically, this is a game where you are the Goliath—the giant of football, the great Ronaldo. You went down the first time but came back to the field after treatment only to return to the stands amid tears when you couldn’t continue. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.
Outside the field of play, you did not give up. It was as if to say the downfall of a man is not the end of his life. Suddenly, the world saw a new Ronaldo, a transfigured Ronaldo, a leader, a field marshal commanding his troops from the sidelines. Suddenly, Portugal had two managers, both dishing out instructions—Fernando Santos and an excited Cristiano Ronaldo heading and kicking an imaginary ball from the touchline.
Oh, you really impressed me. At half-time, you were motivating your teammates with your team talk, lifting their morale, giving them hope, assuring them that this was one battle that must be won and they will win.
“Listen people, I’m sure we will win,” you told them. “So stay together and fight for it.”
Like a prophet, you singled out one attacker, the 28-year-old Guinea Bissau-born Eder, a journeyman rejected by Swansea and loaned to the French club Lille, who never had a good reputation for scoring, a nearly rejected stone who became the cornerstone. You gave him a pep talk. You told him he would be the one to score. And he took the message into his head and stored it there. Exactly 109 minutes into the long, extended game, the moment came and Eder took his chance to fire his name into history with a long-range missile of a shot which beat the fully stretched out hands of the French goalie Hugo Loris to enter a tight corner of the net.
It was one goal, one straw that broke the camel’s back. As to be expected, Portugal erupted in ecstasy while the whole of France were devastated or desolee as they call it in French. I agree with the French striker Griezmann who won the golden boot that “football is cruel but it’s also magnificent.”
In everything, there are lessons to be learnt. The lesson in Portugal’s victory, for me, is this: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t depend on one man and think without him, you are nothing. After the exit of Ronaldo, the Portuguese finally woke up from slumber to play as a team and to claim their destiny. In life, no one is indispensable. When one door closes, a better door opens.
Just like Portugal depended so much on Ronaldo, Nigeria has depended for too long on oil as the main driver of our economy. Now that our Ronaldo is wounded and is off the field, let us wake up and play to our strength as a team to score for Nigeria. There are other players and other resources that we can count on to revive our ailing economy.
Chances are if Ronaldo had not been sidelined by injury and if he had not been stretchered out of the field of play like a dead man, Portugal might not have been victorious. Sometimes, something needs to die or give way for others to live a fruitful life. The Bible says it all: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Something must first die in Nigeria or be sidelined like Ronaldo before we can lift the victory cup of our economic recovery. That is the end of my sermon today. Whoever has ears, let them hear.