Euro 2012: Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo has the perfect opportunity to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow

June 2nd, 20125:01 pm @


There was one moment that summed up Ronaldo’s performance at the last World
Cup – having fired another excessively ambitious long-range shot high and
wide, he looked up to check himself out on the giant stadium screens.

Ronaldo is at his least effective when he plays with an unhealthy narcissism.
It happens when he is most under pressure, or when he lacks faith in his

He demands the ball, he dribbles, he shoots but he ceases to be part of the
collective. Team-mates appear little more than a distraction.

He is particularly vulnerable to slipping into this solipsism when playing for
Portugal, where the pressure on him to be the hero is exacerbated by his
being captain. When he takes on too much he ends up his overall effect is
too little.

His desperation to succeed with his country is driven by the painful memories
of how close they have come in the past.

Euro 2004 is the formative competition for Ronaldo in this sense – he had
burst into the national side as an 18 year-old with incredible speed and a
penchant for ludicrous tricks.

His timing appeared perfect, becoming part of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s thinking
just in time for Euro 2004, which Portugal hosted.

He scored in Portugal’s 2-1 defeat of Holland
in the semi-final. With only Greece
standing between them and a first international trophy, the country was
prepared for celebration.

The loss hit Ronaldo as hard as anyone – at the final whistle he scrunched up
his face and wept.

There have been diminishing returns since: Portugal lost to France in the
semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, to Germany in the quarter-finals of Euro
2008 and to Spain in the last 16 in South Africa two years ago.

Ronaldo’s importance to the team has grown as Rui Costa, Luis Figo and Deco
have retired. Now, at 27, he is the unequivocal star, with 32 goals in 89
games – but Portugal have started to underachieve.

Without him, Portugal probably would not have made it to Poland and Ukraine.
He scored seven goals in eight games as they struggled in qualifying, losing
in Norway and, worryingly for them looking at this group, in Denmark.

They conceded four goals at home against Cyprus and three against Iceland.
They only squeezed past Norway into second on goal difference and needed to
beat Bosnia in a play-off.

They won 6-2 in Lisbon after a goalless first leg. Ronaldo, inevitably, scored

The combination of this uncertain form and a tough group has made for downbeat
expectations back in Portugal.

Yet Paulo Bento has the personnel to forge an impressive team. In Porto’s Joao
Moutinho they have an intelligent playmaker, while Fabio Contreao, Pepe
(both Real Madrid), Raul Meireles (Chelsea) and Nani (Manchester United) all
play at the highest level for their clubs.

If Ronaldo’s phenomenal ability can be harnessed as part of this group, rather
than in isolation, then Portugal can go far.

And for once, Ronaldo would be able enjoy success without wondering how Messi
has bested him again.

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