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International Eagles: Fonte's Euro 2016 Fairytale

15 June 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we will be taking a look at for Palace players and the best moments in their respective national team shirts. Here we look back on Jose Fonte’s fairytale rise from international obscurity to European champion.

When Jose Fonte lifted the Football League Trophy at Wembley in 2010 after beating Carlisle United, he couldn’t have dreamed that six years later he would play a key part in his native Portugal finally ending their international trophy drought.

The defender had dropped down into League One with Southampton a few months earlier after Palace sold him for £1.2 million, who had just entered administration and scrambling for cash. That misfortune was indicative of Fonte’s career at the time, who had been turned away from two Portuguese giants before ending up in the third tier of English football.

He began at Sporting Lisbon but never made it past their B team, and after showing his capabilities in the top-flight with Vitoria Setubal, Benfica swooped for his services. Once again, he never played for their first-team and on both occasions it was manager Fernando Santos was allowed him to depart, including in 2007 when he sanctioned a move to Palace.

Quickly becoming a fan favourite in SE25, the nomadic Fonte would finally find a home and played 92 times for the Eagles. His career seemed to finally be taking off, but once again he hit a setback as he found himself in League One for 18 months, but eventually Southampton’s eventual revival would go hand-in-hand with Fonte’s.

By 2014, he was a Premier League regular but could have been forgiven for thinking his international hopes were dead. As he approached his 31st birthday, Santos was named as Portugal’s new boss, and having passed on Fonte twice it looked as though his hopes of pulling on the famous red shirt were over.

But unexpectedly, Fonte began being called up for squads, and made his debut in November 2014 in a friendly win over Argentina. He became a regular and earned a call-up for Euro 2016, but sat out their first three matches as they barely scraped through to the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed teams, drawing all three games.

After that unconvincing start, Santos dropped veteran Ricardo Carvalho and Fonte was paired with Pepe in central defence. The former Eagle would go on to play every minute of the subsequent four games that saw Portugal reach the final, and beat France 1-0 thanks to Eder’s extra-time strike.

“This goes out to the whole nation, for the hardship we’ve been through,” Fonte said afterwards. “In 100 years we’ll look back on this - it could be a Hollywood movie.” As well as Portugal’s moment of glory, the centre-back’s rags-to-riches story is another tale worth capturing on film. 

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