He was a 19-year-old when Portugal were defeated on their home ground by Greece in Euro 2004 final at Lisbon. Eight years later, Cristiano Ronaldo experienced a similar heartbreak. His jaws dropped as Cesc Fabregas scored the winning penalty, in a game which Portugal should have won in the first 90 minutes. As the Spanish men mobbed Fabregas, Ronaldo knew it was the end of another painful journey for Portugal in a major tournament.
He didn’t score on the opportunities that came his way and thus the best chance was to score at the penalty shoot-out. He rather held himself and made his fans wait, as Fabregas denied him the kick as well as a ticket to the final.
"These games are part of my life. I have to be used to them. Responsibility yes; pressure no." The statement was given by the Portuguese skipper ahead of the semi-final clash. But his body language didn’t back what he said. His shots went wayward and even though his side dominated the initial p
hase of the game and put up a fight against the defending champions for almost 120 minutes, the skipper made plenty of errors and looked the most nervous player on field during the shoot-out.
The 27-year-old striker didn’t begin the tournament on a confident note and then, as expected, questions were raised about his form. But as the matches progressed, he silenced the critics with an alarming comeback.
After wasting ample of opportunities in Portugal's first two group games against Germany and Denmark, the Portugal talisman scored twice against Netherlands to take Portugal to the knockout stage. The Portugal skipper then scored the winner with a header in the 1-0 victory over Czech Republic, setting up a mouth-watering semi-final against European champions.
But after all the hard work, Ronaldo once again couldn’t deliver in the big match. It was seen as a crucial contest between him vs. the 11 Spanish men. Several players from the Spanish squad reckoned that their side was capable of handling Ronaldo, and they successfully did that by decoding the 27-year-old. The defending champions were aware of his individual brilliance and unquestionably they did the homework as Ronaldo struggled to rush past Spain’s strong defence.
Such was Ronaldo’s form that even though Lionel Messi wasn’t a part of the Euro Cup 2012, the critics once again expressed their opinions whether the Portuguese star is greater than the Argentine. Ronaldo had scored 86 league goals in the past two seasons for Real Madrid which had got him closer to the great Messi. And only if he delivered in the big match, he would have probably ended the debate.
The Real Madrid star has often conceded that he gets frustrated when compared with the legend. Even though Messi wasn’t there to haunt him at the semi-finals, the Spanish fans didn’t let him feel so and chanted, “Messi! Messi! Messi,” as the game progressed to the stoppage time.
Ronaldo and the Portuguese fans will have to wait for some more time to taste international success. But the question is with all the hard work, has his team made the country proud despite the heartbreak?
Spain, in spite of sealing their berth, is missing David Villa’s brilliance on the field. They have been labelled as boring at the European Championships for their too defensive approach. But in the latter half of the semi-final, they showed how they can attack when it matters the most.
While the opponent against Spain for the final is yet to be decided, the question is, when they hit the ground at the Olympics Stadium in Kiev on Sunday; can they create history by becoming the first team to defend a Euro Cup title?
Spain, in spite of sealing their berth for final, is missing David Villa’s brilliance on the field. They have been labelled as boring at the European Championships for their too defensive approach. But in the latter half of the semi-final, they showed how they can attack when it matters the most. Italians on the other hand dominated against the mighty Germans, throughout the game in the second semi-final. Barring the penalty kick, Balotelli and his teammates proved that they deserved to reach the final.
We are all set for an intriguing encounter between the defending champions Spain and Italy on Sunday. The question is, when Spain hit the ground at the Olympics Stadium in Kiev; can they create history by becoming the first team to defend a Euro Cup title? And even more importantly, after Ronaldo, can they stop Mario Balloteli and his pyrotechnics?
(The views expressed by the author are personal)