There won’t be many strikers out there who look great alongside Pepe. Beside the 1.88 meters of meat absolutely debugged of any fat that we see in Pepe, because sometimes the giants don’t have to have a body, sometimes it’s the look that makes the other little ones, which puts them at a disadvantage from the outset.
It is possible that this alone is not enough for Romelu Lukaku. Because Lukaku is a few inches longer than Pepe, he’s better off in terms of protein and, most importantly, he’s technical, he knows how to move, he’s probably the most fearsome of today’s forwards. A tank, but one of those with fearless caterpillars, capable of going over the entire leaf, but also of making a top if necessary.
Only tonight, Lukaku was barely seen. And it was barely visible because from a certain point on Belgium had less ball, it’s true, but also because, while they had it, Pepe had the insight to know, from the height of his experience, that with Lukaku you can’t go into shock. Lukaku is to sniff, he is to control from a distance, in being able, when he can’t, it’s not advisable to grab too much, because he, with the technique and strength he has, uses his body to change the turns to his marker. Something Pepe never allowed.
We won’t see big numbers in Pepe’s statistics, maybe we won’t see them in any Portuguese player in this match that sends us out of the Euro and in which no one was more decisive than anyone else, at least in the good parts. But it’s impressive that, not letting Belgium’s most powerful player have any opportunity to create danger, he ends the game with just one foul, an ugly foul, it’s true, and that earned him a yellow already fading to another color, but still just one miss. According to Sofascore, it still has an appreciable percentage of successful passes, 88%, 64 out of 73 attempted. There were a couple of decisive cuts but, more than that, what was important was not what Pepe did, but where he was. And it was almost always in the right place.
But if Pepe is here sprawled in this text, it is also because of the sprint he makes somewhere around 90′, taking the ball forward in that spirit of mission that continues to be an essential part of him, those moments of faith that make us think that although he looks like a young man, as Tiago Ferreira told Diogo Pombo while still in Budapest, he won’t last another five or six years. I don’t know if that spurt in discounts was one of the last images we’ll see of Pepe in the Portugal shirt, but if it’s him, he comes out as he always was: a nonconformist, a streak of strength and passion. It’s Pepe, and Pepe is eternal.
NB – In the end, while the Belgians celebrated their victory, a camera wandered through the empty faces of the Portuguese players. Pepe not only didn’t hide but he faced the camera and with a simple look he told us, all of us Portuguese: “Sorry”. You don’t have to apologize, Pepe. The fault is far from yours.