With the Portuguese national team set to face Spain Wednesday night in the semifinals of the 2012 Euro Cup, pressure once again is on Cristiano Ronaldo to carry his team to victory. After two stellar performances, first against Netherlands and then the Czech Republic, Ronaldo is playing with confidence having netted a combined three goals in the last two games.
Spain though, the favorite of the tournament after winning both the 2008 Euro Cup and 2010 World Cup, is expected to bottle up Ronaldo and Portugal en route to an appearance in the championship match.
The reason Ronaldo must perform well to avoid criticism is simple: Clutch is everything in sports and if Ronaldo shies away from the spotlight, the media will be ruthless. An easy comparison—LeBron James.
No matter how well Ronaldo or James perform, the media and public expect clutch performances when championships are at stake. That's why James faced such extreme pressure against the Oklahoma City Thunder and why so much is expected of Ronaldo on Wednesday. Star players are expected to perform well in big games when the odds are against them because that's what has made them stars.
While Spain may be the better team, Ronaldo is arguably the best player. Therefore, Ronaldo must display his brilliance and score a goal or two for Portugal to advance past Spain. If he becomes complacent and finishes scoreless, Portugal has little chance of beating Goliath and advancing to Sunday's championship.
Ronaldo knows this, which is why he will be looking for his shots Wednesday. That said, Spain has only allowed one goal in four games thus far, so scoring on them is no small feat.
Ronaldo has performed well this tournament, and in particular these last two games. Unfortunately, fans have short memories, and often, the lasting image is how the star exits the tournament. Ronaldo deserves praise for carrying Portugal this far, but the final piece of the puzzle is still waiting. Ronaldo needs to win an international tournament to complete his resume as an international star.
Clutch is everything. Time to see if Ronaldo has it in him.