Few tears will be shed for Cristiano Ronaldo despite Portugal’s Euro 2016 campaign unexpectedly stumbling and possibly even crumbling.
The team should still manage to scuttle through to the knockout stage of the competition with their tales firmly between their legs. But then they “should” have thumped Iceland and Austria, instead of being held to a draw in both matches.
Pre-tournament, Portugal had been tipped as a strong contender when it came to predicting which country would become European champions for the next four years.
That still remains a possibility. In both games, Portugal dominated possession of the ball. Its players created numerous scoring opportunities. Some ended up being near misses on goal; others were squandered.
But the telling statistic is that Ronaldo and company have only scored one goal during the 180 minutes or so that they have been on the pitch. And that goal was not scored by the normally prolific Real Madrid striker
Apart from the running battles between the various tribes of Euro thugs outside football stadiums in host country France’s major cities, Ronaldo’s performance both on off the pitch have been the biggest story so far in Euro 2016.
Portugal’s captain likes to talk about God a lot. And he has God-given talents in abundance. No question. But keeping his mouth shut when it is wiser to say nothing is not one of them.
Instead, wIth his team having been humbled by tiny Iceland, which clung on long enough to force a 1-1 draw, Ronaldo sought retribution post-match.
After the final whistle had blown, he reportedly refused to partake in the usual end-of-match handshakes and exchange of shirts with members of the opposing team.
He then astonished everyone by rubbishing Iceland for doing little else in the match but “defend, defend and defend”, adding acidly that such tactics were those of a team with a “small mentality” and whose presence contributed nothing to the tournament.
What else did he expect Iceland to do? Did he think that country’s defenders should have rolled over and out of his way so Ronaldo could partake in yet another exercise in self-glorification.
His outburst begged a question: what would he have said had Portugal lost the game?
His bleating was sparked by more than just a disappointing result. It cut deeper than him simply being a sore loser. The failure to beat a team which is no.34 in FIFA’s world rankings compared to Portugal’s slot at no.8 could not be allowed to be a large blot on the record of someone who has enjoyed so much success.
Ronaldo is a perfectionist who believes he was “born to be the best.” But to become the best also required huge self-motivation which requires impregnable self-confidence.
That can be drained by defeat. So someone else has to take the blame. In this case, it was Iceland. But Iceland was the underdog. You don’t attack underdogs. You instead do all you can to try to convince everyone that you are not taking them lightly. And if they win or draw, you praise them.
But such simple sporting psychology is obviously not part of.Ronaldo’s lexicon.
With an estimated annual salary of more than $50 million — that’s right, you didn’t read that wrong — he is the second highest paid player in European football.
He is also on record as claiming he is the best player of the past 20 years. He is most definitely one of the best. But he is not the one who should be making such judgements.
No surprises then that his vanity and arrogance — the possession of which he contends has been a major factor in his success — have also made him one of the most loathed and detested players in Europe, if not elsewhere.
Iceland’s management initially tried to make fun of Ronaldo’s complete lack of judgement by saying that if they had a small mentality it was because Iceland was a small country.
But the defender charged with marking Ronaldo knew how to get under the maestro’s skin. He simply remarked that Ronaldo would never be as good as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who is the highest paid player and thus credited as being the best.
If the huge backlash that he copped from his petulance was not enough to make him think twice before speaking in such fashion ever again, then last Saturday’s fixture with Austria provided even more comeuppance for the Portuguese maestro.
With him and his team becoming ever more frustrated by their inability to score, Ronaldo was up-ended by an Austrian defender late in the game and Portugal was awarded a penalty.
Despite having had a pretty poor record recently with shots from the spot, Ronaldo stepped up to take kick.
But the prior number of near misses by Portugal plus some fine goalkeeping on Austria’s part suggested this was not going to be Ronaldo’snight.
His shot was precise enough,hit hard enough and low enough to give the keeper no chance of saving it even if he had dived the right way.
For a split second, it looked like Ronaldo had restored his penalty-taking reputation of old.
Then,as if by divine intervention, the ball thundered against the bottom of the goal-post and bounced back into play from where it was safely cleared by Austria.
And that was about it.
Portugal has a meagre two points out of a possible six in what was regarded as one of the easiest groups.
Portugal must now beat Hungary to guarantee making the next round. Hungary only needs a draw.
If you compare yourself to a god, you are just a short step from thinking you are God. That Saint Cristiano has fallen on his face over the past week may suggest the hand of God at work — but a very different one famously flourished by Argentina’s Diego Maradona, and someone who would have given Ronaldo the Great a more than decent run for his money.