Cristiano Ronaldo: Star Needs Best Performance Yet for Portugal to Beat Spain
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal aren't strangers to the big stage of a major international football tournament, but both the player and the team are very much unfamiliar with winning such tournaments.
Portugal is one of the most storied and illustrious football countries on the European scene, but it will need to beat Spain and advance to the finals of the 2012 European Championships to take its reputation to the next level.
The only way that Paulo Bento's side is going to get passed the efficient "tiki-taka" style of play that Spain employs is for Ronaldo to turn in his best performance of the competition.
They very well might get that out of their star player. Ronaldo was all but invisible through the first two games of the group stage, but his play has gotten increasingly better since his back-to-back subpar showings against Germany and Denmark.
Against the Netherlands, Portugal's captain saved their tournament lives with a pair of brilliant goals. He played with a fire that we hadn't seen up until that point. The best player on the team took matters into his own hands, made his own opportunities and took advantage of those chances.
Ronaldo ran circles around the Holland defenders to the point that it seemed like he was firing off shots at will. He could have found the back of the net two more times if not for his strange propensity to rattle shots off the post.
We saw more of the same against the Czech Republic in Portugal's quarterfinal matchup. The Czechs decided that they weren't going to play much football in that one, choosing rather to protect their goal. To put the attacking discrepancy in perspective, Portugal had 20 attempts and five on target, while the Czech Republic had just two attempts and none on target.
It has not just been Ronaldo getting better from game to game, it has been the entire Portugal lineup. That surely is not a coincidence, as when a team's best player plays at his best, the entire team benefits from it.
We've seen this same song and dance from Portugal on the international stage before, though. It plays increasingly better as the tournament progresses, then suffers heartbreak in the later stages.
As good as Ronaldo's play has been, if it does not continue to improve, Portugal will be sent home empty-handed once again. The chemistry between Ronaldo and Nani has been something to marvel at in these last two matches, more specifically against the Danes.
When Ronaldo turns in a brilliant effort, more opportunities are created for Nani. When more opportunities are created for Nani, he finds his captain with genius passes and creativity.
Can Portugal beat Spain?
Spain is a powerhouse club with possibly the best starting XI in the world. The seamless passing, the ability to capitalize on chances and the overall versatility each player brings to the pitch makes Vicente Del Bosque's side so dangerous.
Portugal doesn't have many advantages over the Spaniards, but the one it does have is huge.
His name is Cristiano Ronaldo.
He's the best player in the world—depending on what you think of Lionel Messi—but must play his best match of the 2012 European Championship if he wishes to solidify Portugal's spot in the finals and his own spot in the annals of his country's football lore.
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