The quarter-final stage of Euro 2012 kicks off tonight, with two highly un-fancied teams who managed to escape from the group stage, the winners of Group A, the Czech Republic, and runners-up to the efficient Germans, Portugal. Both teams will have been happy to reach this stage of the competition, having been labelled as ‘no-hopers’ before the tournament. Many of the players will have nothing to prove, don’t get me wrong there’s some major quality on both teams, but the media, fan and worldwide focus will be on just one of the 22 men on the pitch: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Self branded ‘CR9’ (the artist formally known as CR7), is football’s biggest mega-star. He earns around £10 million pounds per year, before his streak of advertisements which include Nike and Armani among many, and he is the most expensive footballer ever, costing current Spanish champions Real Madrid a cool £80 million back in 2009. He’s 27, technically in his prime years, the captain of his Portuguese nation and seemingly has the world at his feet. If it weren’t for a certain pesky little Argentinian, Ronaldo would be head and shoulders above his footballing peers. Still, his stats at Madrid are mightily impressive, with 146 goals in just 144 games, with 60 of those coming last season alone.
However, the transition to the national side has not been a smooth one. Without the array of stars that surrounded him at both Manchester United and Madrid, Ronaldo has found it tough to lead a ragtag bunch of players of varying degrees in quality. His successor at United, Nani, has found it tough to hold down a permanent spot on the wing at club level, but such is the pool of talent Portugal have to choose from he walks in unopposed. Helder Postiga, the lead centre-forward has almost been relegated from La Liga, whilst Ronaldo has just won it, evidence if it were needed for the contrast in quality in the side. Fellow Madrid teammates Pepe and Fabio Coentrao add a bit of the right experience (winning) the team need, whilst youngster Nelson Oliveira looks set to be their most natural goalscorer since current top scorer Pauleta retired after the 2006 World Cup.
Mostly though, Ronaldo hasn’t been able to convert his form from club to country, similar to the ‘golden generation’ of England. He can turn it on for Madrid whenever he fancies, but at international level he’s a lot more miss, than hit. A trait of Ronaldo’s is simply to SHOOT. He’ll shoot from 30, 40 even 50 yards when given the chance, seemingly not caring if it doesn’t come off, and strutting around like the arrogant primadonna some believe him to be, if it does happen to go in. This has begun to improve though, and has Euro 2012 seen him turn a corner?
His first two group games, against Germany and Denmark brought nothing. Denmark pushed him to his breaking point, with their fans comically chanting ‘Messi, Messi!’ whenever he touched the ball, and himself missing two huge chances, that could’ve won the game way before the late strike from substitute Varela did. Interestingly enough, when Varela scored and was mobbed by his teammates, Ronaldo looked on, almost on the verge of tears. Was he jealous that another had taken his spotlight? It brought about more questions over his attitude towards the national side, was he in it purely for the plaudits? The must-win game vs Holland saw him answer his critics (myself included), inspiring his side to the 2-1 victory and qualification from the ‘Group of Death’, something the side wouldn’t have dreamed of pre-tournament. Cristiano scored both goals and looked….happy on the football pitch.
Is he a changed man? Time will only tell, and a win tonight will certainly help, with a potential semi-final against Iberian neighbours Spain driving himself and the side on. The world is at his feet, win Euro 2012, and he might just make himself the best in the world.
(Below is a little inkling into his true skill….when he can be arsed)