Portugal vs. Spain: In Defense of Cristiano Ronaldo

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Portugal vs. Spain: In Defense of Cristiano Ronaldo
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In the aftermath of Portugal's heart-breaking penalty shootout loss to Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo's decision to save himself for his team's fifth penalty was heavily criticized. Because of Bruno Alves' miss, Ronaldo never got to take a penalty, and many went so far as to blame his team's loss on his supposed "selfishness" in wanting to take what could've possibly been the game-winning penalty.

Here is just one of the many tweets in the Twitter-verse that criticized Ronaldo after the game:

It has since been revealed by Ronaldo that the decision to take the fifth penalty was a joint decision, and that Paulo Bento asked him to take the fifth penalty, not the other way around.

But let's stop and think about it for a second. Aren't we used to applauding players for stepping up to take the biggest shot? In basketball, aren't guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant applauded when they take the potential winning shot and criticized when they don't? Why then, is there a double standard for Cristiano Ronaldo?

You might say that there are different standards in football, but are there really? Many of football's biggest players have made similar decisions:

  1. In the 2012 Champions League final, Didier Drogba took the fifth and final penalty against Bayern Munich, winning the title for Chelsea.
  2. In the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Drogba took the fifth penalty in the penalty shootout with Zambia. His team would go on to lose, but he effectively made the same decision as Ronaldo to take what would've normally been the winning (and highest pressure) penalty.
  3. Also in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Seydou Keita took the fifth and winning penalty in the quarterfinals penalty shootout against Gabon.
  4. In the 2006 World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo saved himself for the fifth penalty in the shootout against England. In that shootout, Ronaldo's penalty won Portugal the game and took them into the semifinals.
  5. In the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Nwankwo Kanu, then Nigeria's best player, took the winning penalty against Tunisia in the quarterfinals.
  6. Also in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Drogba took the 12th penalty and final penalty of the game, winning the quarterfinal against Cameroon.
  7. Finally, once again in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Mohamed Aboutreika, then Egypt's best player, stepped up to take Egypt's fifth and final penalty against the Ivory Coast, winning the game and securing the title for his country.

This list is just a list of the players who waited to take their penalty late in the penalty shootout and eventually did. There are many more who waited to take their penalty and never did, like Steven Gerrard in the 2005 Champions League final.

The point of this list isn't to say that it is better to take your penalty later in the shootout than earlier as a big-time player. The first penalty is often the most nerve-racking, and there have been numerous scenarios when a team's best player has taken the first penalty to get his teammates over their nerves and lead the charge to victory.

The point is to show that in all the scenarios listed above, the players above were heralded as heroes. They were all applauded for their decision to stay patient and take the last penalty of the game. Why is Ronaldo criticized for following their line of reasoning?

In hindsight, it would've been better for Cristiano Ronaldo to step up in place of Bruno Alves to take Portugal's fourth penalty. If he'd converted it, who knows what would've happened; Portugal may have still lost, or Rui Patricio may have made another crucial save to win Portugal the game.

But as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and Bruno Alves had already been selected by Portugal's manager as the fourth penalty-kick taker. Right or not, it was a decision made by Paulo Bento, and a decision Ronaldo, as a player, was right to respect.

Ultimately, Ronaldo's decision was hardly cowardly. It was a joint decision made with his coach, and a decision that numerous great players have made in the past and been applauded for. Some of the criticism that Ronaldo has received in the past for his ego and selfishness, both on and off the pitch, has been justified. In this case though, it is blatantly unfair.

This article was originally published by the author on Counter-Attacking Football, a blog which focuses on La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.


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