Cristiano Ronaldo's critics were eagerly awaiting the final whistle. Portugal's biggest superstar had suffered through another disappointing match, and it nearly cost his side the game, before Silvestre Varela saved the day with just minutes left.
Ronaldo, of course, has gained a reputation of coming up small when it matters most, and another hit to his legacy was just minutes from occurring. If Varela didn't earn all three points for Portgual with a terrific strike, Ronaldo would be the focus of attention right now.
The 27-year-old striker scored 60 goals across all competitions this past season, helping lead Real Madrid to a La Liga title. If there was ever an international tournament where he seemed destined to change his image, it was Euro 2012.
So far, it hasn't worked out that way, though. He hasn't scored in either of the team's first two “Group of Death” matches, and he missed several golden opportunities today. He attempted seven shots, but was unable to find the back of the net.
For most players in the world, generating that many chances would be viewed as a great effort. That's not the case for Ronaldo. If he doesn't produce goals, the naysayers come out of the shadows to criticize him.
Sometimes the criticism is warranted, like it would have been today. But for the most part, his play gets over-analyzed to the point where his chances of succeeding are minimal in the eyes of most.
What do you think about the amount of criticism Ronaldo gets?
Luckily, Varela's late goal will allow him to avoid the extra media attention for at least one more game. Portugal will battle the Netherlands in their first group game, and the team must have a focused Ronaldo to advance to the knockout stages.
Ronaldo has an immense amount of talent—it's impossible to dispute that. But until he starts producing goals more regularly in big games, there will always be a group of people waiting for him to fall flat on his face.
He can do a lot to change his image by leading Portugal to a victory over the Oranje and proceeding to make a deep tournament run. Without that type of showing at some point, it will be tough for him to shake the his reputation.
As for now, he should thank Varela for keeping him out of the headlines and start figuring out what he must do to find the net on Sunday.