Cristiano Ronaldo has been criticized by many for his sub-par performances on the national stage, most recently at the Euro 2012 Championships. When you look at his consistent play at a club level and then compare it to his inconsistent play at the international level, it makes you wonder what is wrong.
Although he may not have been the worst player on the field during Portugal’s first two group stage matches, Ronaldo also wasn’t even a shadow of what we saw for Real Madrid this season. He was missing that flair, the ability and confidence to take on defenders. Where were his 30-40 yard shots that left the goalkeepers confused and worried?
Many were hoping that he would finally show up against Holland, and he sure did. The first 10 or 15 minutes were not so kind for the Portuguese as Van der Vaart picked out the corner of Rui Patricio’s goal to put Holland up 1-0. After that, Ronaldo finally took over.
He was taking on defenders, he looked confident and most of all, he looked like the Ronaldo we saw all year for Real Madrid. While his defensive skills are still not there yet, leaving Fabio Coentrao exposed, going forward Ronaldo was in cruise control and no one was stopping him.
After getting Portugal’s first goal and the equalizer, I felt that this was it. Ronaldo was finally going to come out of his shell and silence his critics, including myself. He looked transformed and worry-free, which is what his teammates need from him.
As many analysts have said since the start of the tournament, Ronaldo appeared to be thinking too much when he had the ball at his feet. That proved to be true against Denmark as the Ronaldo we have grown accustomed to seeing on the pitch would normally not miss the two chances he had.
Yesterday he was himself. Playing free-flowing football and enjoying it at the same time. The Dutch looked out of it psychologically as the game went on, and when Ronaldo sealed the deal with his second-half goal, the weight on his shoulders was finally lifted. When Portugal needed him most in that match he was there, and that's what great players do.
Looking back on the days of Zidane, Figo, and Shearer just to name a few, those guys were there more often than not when their country needed them, and finally Ronaldo did the same.
Now don’t get me wrong, he has helped Portugal plenty in the past and hopefully will continue to do so in the future, but since he has taken over the captaincy, he’s struggled to find his form at the international level. The pressure that was already on him from the get go was multiplied and was clearly affecting his state of mind when he put on that Portugal uniform.
He now will turn his attention to a Czech side that can cause a problem but should be less difficult than the opponents he faced in the group stage. Ronaldo now has a great opportunity to help lead Portugal to a semi-final match in Euro 2012, and from there, who knows.