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Published July 11, 2016
As jubilant Portugal players celebrated around them, Real Madrid and Portugal teammates Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo fell into one another's arms at the Stade de France, pressed their foreheads together and wept tears of joy.
The defender with a fearsome reputation for his tackling could not control his emotions after his team's 1-0 extra-time defeat of France in the European Championship final, which delivered Portugal its first major international football title.
A 33-year-old veteran who won his 77th cap in the final, Pepe was one of the standout players for Portugal. Not just on Sunday with his man-of-the-match performance at the Stade de France, but throughout a tournament in which his team conceded only five goals — three of them in a 3-3 group stage draw with Hungary.
Referee Mark Clattenburg booked six Portugal players in the final. Pepe wasn't among them. The tough defender only picked up one yellow card the whole tournament
Coach Fernando Santos insisted Pepe's reputation as one of the hard men of world football is misplaced.
"I don't understand what people mean when they talk about a bad guy. When you say that about Pepe, it makes no sense," he said. "He has a lot passion; he puts it all on the pitch."
In the final, that passion meant picking up the slack when Ronaldo was carried off on a stretcher in the first half after a heavy tackle by Dimitri Payet injured his left knee. He convinced the players around him that Portugal could win even without its talismanic leader.
"When he said he couldn't go on, I tried to tell my teammates that we have to win it for him, that we were going to fight for him," said Pepe, who had won the Champion League final with Ronaldo on May 28.
On Sunday, Pepe fully deserved his man of the match award, having closed down the most prolific strike force at the tournament without committing single foul.
Yet his reputation still goes before him.
"He is famous for being a bad guy," Santos said. "And I don't think he is going to shake it, ever."