Jose Fonte relishing being part of Portugal Euro 2016 squad
Jose Fonte is on the brink of helping Portugal to the Euro 2016 final, four years on from watching their last semifinal at home without so much as a Premier League appearance to his name.
A part of the Sporting Lisbon academy at the same time as Cristiano Ronaldo, their routes to this point could not have been much more different.
While the forward, in Fonte's words, "rose like a rocket" with medal-laden spells at Manchester United and now Real Madrid, the centre-back bumped around Portuguese clubs before moving to Crystal Palace and dropping down to join Southampton.
The 32-year-old helped Saints secure back-to-back promotions from League One, but that summer's celebrations were soured somewhat by Portugal bowing out to Spain on penalties in the Euro 2012 semifinals.
Fonte watched that match at home with his family and still describes himself as a "big fan," albeit one now hoping to help Portugal go one better in Wednesday's semifinal against Wales.
"It means everything, it means the world," Fonte said of his rise to the national team. "Obviously I've always had the ambition and the desire and the belief that I could get there.
"As soon as I could get to the Premier League, I thought I'd be closer to the dream, to my target.
"Fortunately, we've been able to progress at Southampton to be a top-six or seven club in the Premier League, and that gave me the opportunity to be selected by the manager.
"It's something that I am proud of and something I'll always cherish, this time in Euro 2016."
Travelling to some of football's lower-league outposts just five years ago has made this experience all the sweeter, as well as fuelling his desire to triumph at Euro 2016.
Winning "would be the cherry on top of the cake" in a remarkable rise punctuated by hard work and suffering, but the defender knows overcoming Wales will be far from straightforward.
"They never give up," Fonte said. "Their mentality, the togetherness that they are showing and the system they play suits them well.
"They know the system well, they have their strengths and it's a team with a lot of qualities.
"They are where they are because they deserve it, so we expect a really tough game tomorrow."
Portugal's evening in Lyon could be made all the more difficult should centre-back Pepe fail to overcome a thigh complaint. Fonte, though, is used to doing things the hard way.
"This is going to be a battle, a very tough match," the defender, who made his international debut aged 30, said. "We've prepared for this, to be ready to play our game tomorrow and have our weapons at the ready."