Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal Star Will Lead Squad out of Group Stage
From time to time, we see star players put their team on their back and lead the charge to victory.
The 2012 European Championships will be one of those times for Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
After suffering a crushing 1-0 loss to Germany in the first game of group play, the Portuguese will look to Ronaldo in their time of greatest need, and he will answer with masterful play.
Against Germany, Ronaldo was largely irrelevant for the better part of the match. His teammates hardly looked for him, and even when they did, they sent him poor passes, giving him no reasonable chance to find the back of the net.
If Portugal wants to avoid another disappointment in a major tournament, it will need to incorporate Ronaldo into the attack more than ever, and especially more than it did against Germany.
Denmark will be their next test.
Ronaldo and company face a tough obstacle in the Danish back line. Most notably, second-string goaltender Stephan Andersen, who put up a blank slate against the Netherlands in the team's Euro opener.
Portugal needs to start the match off on the attack. While Denmark did score a goal against the Netherlands in the opener, its attack is hardly formidable. The chances were few and far between, and it's safe to say they were in good fortune to notch the goal they did against the Dutch.
Following the Netherlands' attacking plan would serve Portugal best. The Dutch didn't find the back of the net against Denmark, but they had plenty of opportunities to do so. If Portugal can get that many chances, don't expect Ronaldo or the rest of the attackers to put forth such terrible efforts when it comes to finishing.
But in reality, this team will go as Ronaldo goes. The better individual performance he puts forward, the better chance the Portuguese will have at advancing to the knockout stage.
The Real Madrid star hasn't been on his best game in major tournaments.
In the 2008 European Championship, Ronaldo didn't score a goal after his eight-goal qualifying campaign. In the 2010 World Cup, he was unable to get on the board in qualifiers and only notched one goal in the tournament, which came in a 7-0 drubbing against North Korea in group play.
Ronaldo scored seven goals for his country in this year's Euro qualifying, but he's failed to make an impact thus far in the tournament.
This time seems different, though. He's coming off one of the best club seasons any player has ever had, scoring 46 goals in 37 games for Real Madrid in La Liga. At 27 years old, he's more mature and a better player than he was in tournaments past.
How far will Portugal go in the 2012 Euro?
Portugal can still advance from the group of death, as the Netherlands' loss to Denmark was huge for its chances. Ronaldo will surely bounce back from the loss to Germany, as this could be his last Euro in prime form.
With Ronaldo firing on all cylinders, the Portuguese will have no problem taking down Denmark. The Netherlands have a tough test against Germany, and if they lose, they'll be all but mathematically eliminated. If Portugal can get a two-goal win against the Danes, it will move to second place in the group on goal differential, moving into perfect position to advance.
It will all come down to the final match of group play against the Netherlands. If the Dutch lose to Germany, they won't have much to play for in the match against Portugal.
There will need to be some luck involved, but Ronaldo will lead the charge for Portugal in its final two group games, leading to a 2-1 record and a ticket to the knockout stage of the 2012 European Championship.
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