What is amiss for Ronaldo?
Star suffers due to Portugal’s lack of creative passers and rising pressure
On the same day his archrival Leo Messi scored a hat-trick in Argentina’s win over Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure for his national team as he failed to prevent Portugal slumping to an opening-game defeat by Germany at Euro 2012. Four times Ronaldo got the ball on target and four times goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and the German defense frustrated the man who wants to be considered the best in the world, but has yet to make his mark on an international tournament.
The evening ended with Ronaldo flinging his captain’s armband to the ground and storming off the pitch in egocentric disgust, leaving his teammates to salute the Portuguese fans who had traveled to the Group B match in Lviv. Today against Denmark (6pm, Cuatro), Portugal seeks a win to keep its Group B options open.
For Real Madrid it is a different story for the 27-year-old from Madeira. In three seasons since moving to La Liga from Manchester United, Ronaldo has scored a phenomenal 146 goals in 144 games, playing a big part in helping his countryman José Mourinho coach the club back to supremacy over Messi’s Barcelona. In his international career, he has garnered 32 goals in 90 appearances, an abysmal difference that seems to require some explanation beyond the fact that Real offers greater offensive firepower for him to feed off.
For António Simões, a member of the Portugal team that finished third at the 1966 World Cup, the problem is that today’s team lacks “those great passers of past times. Cristiano needs those specialists so he does not play so selfishly; so he doesn’t think he has to fetch the ball, pass it and score all by himself.”
But for Costinho, a forward who played with Ronaldo at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, things have improved under coach Paulo Bento after the lonely role Cristiano played up front at South Africa 2010. “The ball never got to him and our lines were too spaced out. With his speed and dribbling Cristiano can do more damage from the wings.”
“I am at the high point of my career,” Ronaldo told Portuguese TV at the start of Euro 2012. “I was at Manchester United and I left my mark; at Real Madrid I am leaving my mark. Everywhere I have been I have left my mark.” Everywhere? Messi still has no silverware to show for his Argentina career. Portugal’s hopes rest on Ronaldo getting one up on his, some would say peerless, rival.