When Cristiano Ronaldo’s celebrations having headed the ball into the net against Austria in the second group game were cut short by a linesman, those at the Parc des Princes laughed. The sound of several thousand people laughing is a strange one and that that was the response suggests two things: firstly that Ronaldo, with his preening and his demand that he or at least his immaculate abs are always at the center of attention provokes a remarkable level of Schadenfreude for one so gifted. And secondly, that his misfortune in that game had reached the level of the absurd.
Two goals against Hungary in the third group game only partly straightened the glitch. This Portugal team should not be finishing third in this group and for its their best player has to take the bulk of the responsibility. The nature of international football is that some teams will always have one player who is significantly better than his teammates. The question is how he deals with that pressure, and at this tournament both Gareth Bale with Wales and Marek Hamsik with Slovakia have done so rather more inspirationally than Ronaldo.
He could legitimately argue that in all three group games he came close to winning the game by himself. To which the answer is that if he stopped trying to do so he might not have to.
Portugal is significantly less than the sum of its parts, and too often Ronaldo has been a sulky figure, raging at his teammates for not living up to his level when he could be cajoling them.
For those who see everything in terms of Messi-Ronaldo polarities, it can’t have escaped notice that Lionel Messi, returning from his back injury, has been in sensational form in the Copa America, scoring five goals including a stunning free kick in the semifinal win over the USA.
In each of the first two games in the group, Ronaldo had 10 shots, meaning that in total he had had more than nine of the other 23 sides in the competition–without scoring. Against Austria, he hit the post with a penalty that had been awarded for a foul on him as he’d charged into the box. Twice he was denied by excellent saves from Austria goalkeeper Robert Almer. In the first half he made a surging run to the near post and turned a cross just wide.
Everything, in other words, was just a fraction off. This wasn’t some kind of meltdown. It was one of the greatest players in the world just needing a little calibration. This, perhaps, was a knock-on from the injury that clearly affected him in the Champions League final, even if he was weirdly unable to acknowledge the fact.
Rare Photos of Cristiano Ronaldo
A 23-month old Cristiano Ronaldo smiles for the camera.
Cristiano Ronaldo practices with Portugal U17.
Cristiano Ronaldo lies injured while playing for Sporting Lisbon before his transfer to the English Premiership team Manchester United.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United teammates Diego Forlan and Ruud van Nistelrooy pose with Casey Ogden during the players' annual visit to children's hospitals in Manchester.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the center of attention during an appearance on Herman SIC
Cristiano Ronaldo attends Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics tour at the Manchester Evening News Arena.
After giving Christmas gifts to a group of underprivileged children, Cristiano Ronaldo takes time to sign autographs.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Bollywood actress Bipasha Basu attend the debut of the New Seven Wonders of the World at Luz stadium in Lisbon.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Adrian Grenier strike a pose during a party in Hollywood.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn't let an injury get in the way of his beach time during a visit to Malibu.
Cristiano Ronaldo with his Barclays Player of the Year, Golden Boot and 30 League Goals awards at Carrington Training Ground in Manchester, England.
Cristiano Ronaldo autographs a team jersey for a Saudi man after arriving at King Khaled airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Cristiano Ronaldo kisses his "Golden Shoe 2008" award, presented to Europe's best goal scorer.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portuguese national teammate Aziza Makukula pose in a cockpit on their way to Zurich.
WWE star Rey Mysterio with Cristiano Ronaldo as they visit Valdebebas in Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo with Russell Crowe during the actor's visit to Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani celebrate in the dressing room after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in Manchester.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul Gonzalez pose with Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open tennis tournament.
Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Da Silvano Restaurant in New York City after having lunch.
Cristiano Ronaldo and girlfriend, model Irina Shayk, watch Rafael Nadal serve during a tennis match on day nine of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open.
Cristiano Ronaldo participates in a kart race with his Real Madrid teammates at Carlos Sainz Center in Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Irina Shayk attend the Marie Claire Prix de la Mode gala at the French Ambassador's Residence in Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Irina Shayk attend the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at La Caja Magica.
2012 Cristiano Ronaldo and Queen Sofia of Spain
Queen Sofia of Spain presents Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo with the Ibero-American Community Trophy during the National Sports Awards ceremony at El Pardo Palace in Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo leans in to kiss Irina Shayk as they attend the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at La Caja Magica.
Cristiano Ronaldo and former player David Beckham pose after a training session at UCLA Campus in Los Angeles.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo kicks around a baseball as Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig looks on prior to the Dodgers game against the New York Yankees at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Cristiano Ronaldo launches his CR7 underwear line in Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo attends the unveiling of his wax figure at the Museo de Cera (Wax Museum) in Madrid.
FIFA Ballon d'Or nominee Cristiano Ronaldo, his son Cristiano Ronaldo Jr., and Irina Shayk arrive at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland. Ronaldo won the award as FIFA top player over Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery.
FIFA Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo signals during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2014 at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland.
Cristiano Ronaldo sprays his fragance 'Cristiano Ronaldo Legacy' at World Duty Free store at Barajas airport in Madrid.
The other concern is that Ronaldo is now 31. If he is not declining yet, he will begin to soon. In terms of clean living and looking after himself, he has lived an exemplary life and should be able to keep going as long as anybody. But aging cannot be stopped. There will come a point when the explosive pace deserts him. When he no longer has quite the same spring. Already his game is beginning to change. It’s been a while since he was the willowy kid on the wing, tracing his arabesques in a hair-gelled shimmer, but increasingly he is becoming a penalty-box player, somebody whose prime talent is his capacity for goals.
Of course, Ronaldo brings much of the mockery on himself.
Throwing a microphone into a lake is never going to look good, no matter how annoying it might be to be interrupted on a morning stroll.
And coming after the night he’d had against Austria, of course, it just provoked a series of jokes on social media about how at least held finally hit the target.
Similarly refusing to let journalists ask questions at the post-match press conference following the Hungary game was petty, making a mockery of his role as captain and the notion of a press conference. Quite apart from anything else, Portugal fans have a right to know from its on-field leader why it hasn’t won a game at this tournament.
His comments about Iceland after it had held Portugal to a 1-1 draw were absurd: of course Iceland has a “small” mentality: it is small, literally the smallest nation ever to qualify for the Euros. It would never do anything at the tournament? It just had, scoring its first goal and taking its first point. Ronaldo, presumably, has no idea who or what Iceland is and so is incapable of empathy. The jeers of the Iceland fans as news flashed on the scoreboard of Hungary’s goals suggested how much they had taken his comments to heart–and they won, taking two points more than Portugal and finishing above them.
That he has taken 40 free-kicks at major tournaments without scoring is also ridiculous. It probably is time to let somebody else have a go. But his self-belief is apparently unconquerable. The penalty he missed against Austria was his fourth failure from the spot (shootouts excluded) in his last five. Nobody, of course, would dream of suggesting he takes a break.
And yet Ronaldo, even when off color, is capable of moments of brilliance. His pass to Nani for the first equalizer against Hungary was superb. So, too, was his back-heel flick for the second equalizer, as he became the first player to score in four European Championships. And it was Ronaldo who got the third equalizer as well, heading in a Ricardo Quaresma cross.
Portugal creeps through as a top-four third-place side and, if Ronaldo fires on all cylinders, it could yet have a major say in the tournament, but if it and he are to do so, it will need a major improvement on the group stage.