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Ricardo keeps his feet on the ground.

Byline: By John Gibson

The young man has become a big name. Ricardo Alexandre Martins Soares Pereira.

Tonight Ricardo will keep goal for Portugal having been crowned a national hero after his penalty histrionics defeated the might of England.

The 26-year-old went home straight afterwards to Montijo, where white-washed walls flake under the sun's heat and the cork tree dotted ground is dry and parched.

Ricardo wandered around shirtless, past the town's enduring bullring and high rise buildings towering next to the Tagus estuary chatting with neighbours about the greatest moment of his sporting life.

It was the completion of a remarkable show of faith by a Brazilian coach who had come to Lisbon.

Luiz Felipe Scolari had met Ricardo on the eve of the 2002 World Cup when Portugal drew 1-1 with Brazil. Ricardo produced a dazzling show of reflexes to deny Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo everything bar a penalty.

Portugal's coach Antonio Oliveira, however, dismissed Ricardo's show of virtuosity and chose Porto's keeper Vitor Baia instead for the No.1 job in Japan.

Scolari reversed that decision upon leaving Brazil for Lisbon and Baia didn't even make the cut for Euro 2004.

The reason? A chance meeting of the three at a charity game earlier this year.

"Baia greeted me and ignored Ricardo," revealed Scolari. "How could I choose him when he doesn't even get along with the first goalkeeper?"

Coach and saviour hugged one another after the England match, both vindicated in the most decisive of ways.

Tonight Ricardo faces Holland in the semi-finals and his wife and son wait patiently in Montijo, the town where he first played football as a forward at the age of 10. They are all praying for another special homecoming.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 30, 2004
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