It is often said that goalkeepers have nothing to lose when it comes to penalty shootouts.
While that may be true, it shouldn’t be a reason for stoppers to hide; instead, they should look to Ricardo for inspiration. The Portugal ‘keeper’s heroics against England in Euro 2004 are a sign that they have everything to gain.
The quarter-final tie between A Seleção and The Three Lions was a thriller. Michael Owen opened the scoring in the third minute with an intelligent flick just three minutes in. It had looked as though that would be the only goal of the game until substitute Hélder Postiga headed past David James in the 83rd minute. Sol Campbell seemed to have turned things around for a final time in the dying moments, but the goal was controversially chalked off.
So came extra time, and it was Portugal’s turn to go in front, as Rui Costa glided across the pitch before smashing an unstoppable strike off the underside of James’ crossbar. England had fight of their own, though, and when David Beckham’s corner came in five minutes later, John Terry got up to nod the ball down for Frank Lampard, who turned before hitting his shot out of Ricardo’s reach.
The English celebrated this as their chance to get back into the game and overcome their torrid record in penalty shootouts. Many of the fans won’t have known too much about the man their players needed to beat from the spot. Ricardo, who was 25-years-old at the time, had never played his club football outside of Portugal. He’d started out at C.D. Montijo, before moving to Boavista and then joining Sporting CP the year before the tournament.
Ricardo was given a gift to start with, as David Beckham blazed his effort over the bar despite the goalkeeper diving the wrong way. Deco, Michael Owen, Simão and Frank Lampard all stepped up confidently and converted their respective penalties. However, Rui Costa sent his effort over the bar to restore parity.
John Terry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Owen Hargreaves and Maniche all added goals to their respective sides’ tallies, taking the shootout to sudden death. Up stepped Ashley Cole, who scored to put the pressure on Hélder Postiga, but it clearly didn’t impact the striker as he pulled off a Panenka.
At this point, Ricardo had done nothing out of the ordinary and knew he had to change that. Speaking to the media after the game, he said: ““I felt that I had to do something after conceding three penalties all in the centre of the goal. Taking the gloves off was what occurred to me at that moment and I did it to try and motivate myself and to put [Darius] Vassell off.”
It certainly worked, as the England number 23 stepped up and attempted to power the ball into the bottom right corner. He was denied, though, as Ricardo threw himself across the goal line and got one of his outstretched bare hands to the ball. Following his heroics, the goalkeeper jumped up and celebrated with the fans.
Ricardo’s work still wasn’t quite finished yet, as he turned from shot-stopper to penalty taker. With the game in the balance, he strode up to the ball decisively and smashed it into the bottom left corner, giving James pretty much no chance of stopping it.
In fact, Ricardo hit the penalty with so much conviction that he was pretty much running off to celebrate as soon as the ball left his boot. The Estádio da Luz soon joined him in displaying unbridled jubilation, as the home supporters celebrated reaching the semi-finals.
Portugal then went on to beat the Netherlands to reach the final, but a header from Angelos Charisteas meant that it was eventually Greece who went on to lift the trophy – ending the hopes of Ricardo and his nation. In the season following his Euros heroics, Ricardo helped Sporting reach the UEFA Cup final but suffered disappointment again, as they were beaten 3-1 by CSKA Moscow.
Things were never the same outside of his homeland. The stopper moved to Real Betis in 2007, where he largely acted as back-up after losing his position as first choice early on. By the time he left to join then-Championship side Leicester City in February 2011, Ricardo was no longer the same man that had denied England a place in the semi-finals. Upon that season’s culmination, Ricardo returned to Portugal where he saw out the remainder of his career.
There is often an obsession with players constantly proving themselves, but Ricardo is evidence enough that if your biggest moment is great enough, it can make an entire career. People won’t remember him sitting on the bench in La Liga or his half-season in the Championship. When fans hear the name Ricardo, they’ll think of the man throwing himself across the goal to save a penalty with his bare hands before sticking the ball in the back of the net himself.
That’s exactly how it should stay.