Euro 2012: Why Cristiano Ronaldo Has a Point to Prove with Portugal This Summer
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo will head into Euro 2012 propelled by another prolific club season with Real Madrid and with the weight of expectancy falling more heavily on his shoulders than ever.
With Portugal drawn together with Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark in the obligatory "Group of Death" next month, a barnstorming, unmarkable and free-scoring Ronaldo is essential to their hopes of progress.
The statistics suggest that Portugal will go home before the knockout stages. Paulo Bento's young squad needed a playoff to qualify for Poland and Ukraine, and will be up against German and Dutch teams that romped to the finals and are both considered among the favorites.
And then there are the outsiders from Denmark who won't be overawed, having beaten Portugal 2-1 in October and having earned the top spot in their qualifying group.
"Portugal are not favourites, which is conducive, seeing as we are a young team led by a young selector," Ronaldo told Kicker Magazine, as per FourFourTwo. "The pressure is on bigger teams like Germany, Netherlands and obviously Spain."
But the pressure is also on Ronaldo.
On the balance of his four major tournaments so far, the 27-year-old has left us wanting on the international stage. He has a point to prove in Poland and Ukraine, and he knows it.
|Tournament||Games played (as substitute)||Goals||Assists||Portugal's Progress|
|Euro 2004||6 (2)||2||2||Runners-up|
|World Cup 2006||6||1|| |
|World Cup 2010||4||1||1||Last 16|
Arguably Ronaldo's best international tournament so far was his first—Portugal's run to the final as hosts of Euro 2004.
The 19-year-old Ronaldo was just a season into his Manchester United odyssey and was still relatively unproven. But having played the first two games at Euro 2004 as a substitute, he did enough to earn a place in the team for the tournament.
It was scant consolation for Portugal's failure to lift the trophy, however. Ronaldo was thrust into a team boasting the talents of Luis Figo, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho, but stubborn Greece resistance ultimately did for Portugal's golden generation in the final.
Had Portugal triumphed, it could well have been Ronaldo's launching pad for international domination. But Greece's 80-to-1 miracle drew his tears and recriminations for his failing to deliver in the biggest game of his life.
Wrote Mark Doyle for Goal.com: "Ever since, he (Ronaldo) has been dogged by accusations that he cannot replicate his club form at international level."
World Cup 2006 arrived with Portugal still considered a genuine force. A European setting—Germany—gave them every chance of a run, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's team were eventually beaten in the semifinals by a Zinedine Zidane penalty for France.
Ronaldo managed just one goal in six games and failed to offer up a single assist. He also soured his reputation with his antics around Wayne Rooney's sending-off for England in the quarterfinals.
And try as he might against France, he could find no way past Fabian Barthez. Similarly, he could find no way to banish the ghosts of his Euro 2004 disappointment.
But by the time Euro 2008 came around, the 23-year-old Ronaldo was back on top of the world. His dominant displays had helped Manchester United to Champions League glory, and Ronaldo had already made his case to pick up the Ballon d'Or that year.
It was a case of ever-decreasing returns for Portugal's international fortunes, however.
Scolari's team were beaten 3-2 by Germany in the quarterfinals, with Ronaldo once again unable to leave his mark when his country needed him most. At times, it was almost as if he was trying too hard to make it happen.
World Cup 2010 delivered a new low. With Carlos Queiroz as coach, Portugal fell in the second round, and Ronaldo was largely ineffectual in his side's 1-0 loss to ultimate champions Spain.
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
"I feel a broken man, completely disconsolate, frustrated and an unimaginable sadness," Ronaldo told BBC Sport, as per The Guardian.
Then 25, Ronaldo arrived at that tournament as the most expensive player in history—having joined Real Madrid for £80 million in 2009. His first season in Spain had been a success, but still international affirmation continued to elude him.
It wasn't getting any easier to achieve it, either. Portugal appeared to be in decline, and the demands on Ronaldo were getting bigger by the tournament.
At Euro 2012, his performances will be nothing short of crucial. Bento's team have undoubted quality in the likes of Nani, Raul Meireles and Ronaldo's Madrid teammates Fabio Coentrao and Pepe, but the Portugal squad are no match for the strength in the depth offered up by Germany and the Netherlands.
Bento knows all too well the responsibility that falls on his star player this summer.
And there are signs Ronaldo is primed to deliver. In the group phase of qualifying, he scored seven goals in eight games for Portugal under Bento, with two more in their playoff success against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ronaldo's relationship with his coach dates back to their time together at Sporting Lisbon, when the two players crossed paths at opposite ends of their careers. Something clearly clicked, and Ronaldo has faith Bento can set up Portugal to defeat Germany in their Euro 2012 opener.
"The coach (Bento) knows better than anyone what to do," Ronaldo said, as per Goal.com. "We will have 20 days to prepare for the first game, so we will have enough time to set up the tactics to beat Germany."
As B/R's tactical expert Sam Tighe pointed out in his detailed analysis, Bento will shape his team to get the best out of Ronaldo at Euro 2012.
That means a front three—with Ronaldo offered familiar support in the form of Coentrao and an onus on fast counterattacking play to exploit his strengths.
The idea is simple: Play the Real Madrid way, and Ronaldo will have the best chance of replicating the club form that saw him score 46 times in La Liga this season and lead Jose Mourinho's team to the Spanish title.
If all goes to plan, Ronaldo could be set for a defining month in his career. The big question is whether he can banish the demons of major tournaments past to realize his ultimate ambition—and lead Portugal to glory.
As ever, all eyes will be on his precocious feet as Portugal's campaign gets underway against Germany on June 9.
With the tournament's best player in their ranks, you'd be a fool to write Portugal off.
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