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Portugal's win finds echo in distant Goa

MARGAO -- When Eder produced his moment of magic to win the European Championships for Portugal, he sent a whole nation into jubilation, scarcely believing what they were seeing; 4500 miles away from the Stade de France, a group of 150 people watching in a sports club in Goa echoed their celebrations and their disbelief.

Eder's goal kicked off the party at the B.P.S Sports Club in Margao, and across a state that has worn its Portuguese connections with pride and emotion. Named after Bernardo Peres de Silva, the first Goan to be Governor during the Portuguese rule, the club was all prepared, with giant-screen TVs, to support the 'home team'.

Over the course of 120 minutes, the crowd went through a rollercoaster ride of emotions, lustily cheering Ronaldo, shocked into silence at his injury and early exit, booing Dmitri Payet, whose tackle had led to the injury. The tension grew thicker as the match progressed but the late goal prompted an outbreak of hugs and smiles as Portugal were crowned European champions.

"We have huge Portuguese support here in Goa," Conrad Baretto, owner of the largest sports community in Goa, the football dug out, said. "I have been arranging screenings for more than two years and Brazil, Portugal and Germany have the most supporters here."

The Portuguese ruled Goa for 450 years, leaving on 19th December, 1961 - celebrated since then as Liberation Day. Culturally, though, the Portuguese have never left; their customs and traditions remain, in the food, the language, the laissez-faire and in the football.

"The youngsters do not have that connection, but the adults do," Conrad said. "My grandmother is Portuguese, but I only speak a little bit of the language. The current generation shift their interest in teams and change their support to Germany for example, but if you go to Nostalgia (a restaurant in South Goa), you find the hard core Portugal supporters."

Chef Fernando's Nostalgia, to give it its full name, is owned by possibly the most passionate Portuguese fan in Goa: Margarida Tavora e Costa. Margarida, half Portuguese, set up the restaurant with her husband Fernando. Ahead of the final, they had prepared a special menu and dressed their staff in red T-shirts. The primary ingredient, Bacalhau, the salted cod that's the staple of Portuguese cuisine, had been imported from Portugal, as was the 'De Reino' olive oil.

The menu included Bolinhos do Bacalhau (fish cutlets) as a starter with Bacalhau a bras ou a gomes sa (fish with onions and potatoes) as a main course and Serradura as dessert. "These are all authentic Portuguese dishes we will serve for lunch and dinner today celebrating Portugal's entry to final. We are very passionate football lovers and today we are happy to serve our customers authentic Portuguese dishes" Margarida said.

Champs, a sports store in the heart of Margao, was similarly decked out in Portuguese jerseys, flags, stickers and scarfs. Red and green everywhere. "Everybody supports Portugal," Dennie Noronha, the showroom manager, said. "Once the World Cup or the European Cup starts, most people in Goa support Portugal or Brazil. Some also want to facepaint and some want a Portuguese sticker for the car."

As we were speaking, two women came in and bought a Portuguese flag. I asked them why. The answer was unambigious: "We just love Ronaldo."

"The Portuguese introduced football in Goa," says Francisco Mascarenhas (81). "When I was in school we used to play football every day. That was the beginning. All the students were trained to play and it gradually developed. In those days I used to enjoy watching Eus├ębio. He was my hero. All the Goans during that time had a connection with him."

Fransisco's family are what you call the definition of a Portuguese-origin family in Goa. While his observations say a lot about the infatuation of football in the state, his son- in-law gives some more insight.

"The Portuguese promoted their football through religion. Priests were also involved in the game. If you have noticed most Goan football players have traditionally been Catholics, and this was established through the church," Jesus Ribeiro, a financial consultant in Goa, said.

This is probably why the greatest football players from Goa are Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence, Joaquim Abranches, Alvito D'Cunha and Bruno Coutinho. The demographic is changing though, as witnessed by the emergence of Mahesh Gawli and Samir Naik.

As the sun rose on Margao, Portugal's victory was still being talked about and Ronaldo was being compared - favourably, of course - to Messi for the hundredth time.

By sunset Goa will return to its susegad lifestyle - the word, adapted from Portuguese, sums up the laidback nature of this coastal state. For the Goans, this victory means much more than a European Cup. The elders are rekindling memories of their younger days and planning on phoning friends and relatives in Portugal; the young are perhaps listening to these stories in person and creating memories of their own.

A continent away from the Stade de France, football has scored another winner.