It’s rare but some tournaments are remembered as belonging to one individual; a star who not only was the standout player but carried their side to victory. Paolo Rossi dominated Spain ‘82, Mexico ‘86 will always be remembered as Maradona’s World Cup and in 1998 Zinedine Zidane led the French to victory on home soil.
Euro 2012 is fast becoming Cristiano Ronaldo’s tournament. Initially it seemed as though he was struggling under the burden of expectation, trying too hard to win it all on his own. Bad decisions were made and chances were missed in the opening two games, most notably against Denmark where two one-on-ones were uncharacteristically wasted. It seemed as though this would be yet another international stage where he failed to meet the high standards we’ve come to expect.
Ronaldo’s arrogance brings with it a great sense of belief and rather than hide in the following game, he put in a scintillating performance against the Netherlands. Bert Van Marwijk’s decision to start with such an attacking line up left the Dutch extremely open, playing perfectly into Ronaldo’s hands. He tormented Gregory Van der Wiel and scored twice, only being denied a hat-trick by the foot of the post.
In the Quarter Final against the Czechs he was at his imperious best. The goal itself was an unstoppable header following a brilliant run across Gebre Selassie and again he was unfortunate to not score more. The touch, turn and shot that hit the foot of the post was the type of moment we watch football for and was nearly one of the great international goals of all time.
In my opinion this is the best Portugal team we’ve seen since the days of Eusebio. Although the ‘golden generation’ of Luis Figo and Rui Costa had great individual talent, they never had the complete package to back it up. This Portugal side has arguably the best centre back pairing in the competition with Pepe and Bruno Alves, whilst the midfield three of Meireles, Veloso and Moutinho has a great shape and solidity to it. That strong base creates the ideal platform for the team’s counter attacking philosophy, maximising the strengths of both Ronaldo and Nani by providing them with the space to flourish. A likely semi-final clash with Spain awaits but their style of play could be the perfect weapon against the relentless Spanish tiki-taka.
His despairing looks to the gods are annoying, his response to the Danish fans after their taunts of “Messi Messi” was petulant, the half-time hairstyle changes are ridiculous and his insistence on ensuring he is the centre of attention does become boring. I’m not suggesting you have to like him but you have to admire him. Euro 2012 is far richer for having him in it and should Portugal go all the way, this could be long remembered as Ronaldo’s tournament.