"Injustice, injustice," whispered Cristiano Ronaldo, eyes moist, face ghastly strained. His chance – the chance to send his team to the Euro 2012 final, to stand in glory and sweat and adulation for the first time on the international stage – hadn't come. It was supposed to come.
Spain didn't bother letting Portugal take the penalty shootout, after an almighty drag of a 0-0 draw, to the last shot. Instead, Cesc Fabregas clinked his penalty heart-joltingly off the upright and into the opposite side netting, making the final kick superfluous. Not even Ronaldo can make up a 4-2 deficit with one shot.
So the 27-year-old stood in the same spot whispering, disbelieving, mourning.
Once cameras had their fill of closeups of Ronaldo, attention turned to coach Paulo Bento, who claimed he had the spot-kick sequence planned before the tournament.
"We had decided this plan and if it would have been 4-4 and Ronaldo would have had the last penalty, we would talk differently," Bento said. "This is about strategy, no more than that."
Ronaldo shared his fatalism.
"I was going to take the fifth penalty but we missed two," Ronaldo said. "It was just a question of me speaking with the coach. He said to me 'you want to take the fifth one?' and I said 'yes'. Sometimes I take the first, the second or the third. I agreed to take the fifth."
The man who scored 23 of 25 penalties in the past two La Liga and Champions League seasons also sequenced fifth when Portugal knocked England out of the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals in a shootout. He shot fourth two years earlier when Portugal dumped the same side out of Euro 2004 at the same stage.
Cesc Fabregas also demanded the pressure of the final penalty. "Cesc asked me if he could take the fifth penalty so he could strike the victorious one," Vicente Del Bosque said. "I never argue with that."
Just like Fabregas came off the bench to score the sealing PK against Italy in the Euro 2008 quarters, helping ignite the current dynasty, he again dispatched a historical spot kick.
"When I stepped up to take the penalty I said to the ball that we had to make history and it shouldn’t let me down," Fabregas said. It didn't. When the adidas Tango 12 clipped nervously off the post before going in, it let Portugal, and Ronaldo, down instead.
Soccer is a game of fine margins. Bento pointed out that his team hit the post six times throughout the tournament, not including Bruno Alves' penalty. What would have happened if Alves had remembered the order and not tried to usurp Nani's third shot? ("Alves was a little confused, that’s all," Bento said.) What if Ronaldo had taken an extra breath when, as regular time loomed, Raul Meireles put him through, but Ronaldo's left-footed blast careened sky-high?
Then again, maybe even if Nani had bothered to show up during the first 120 minutes this game might have ended the same. Portugal didn't force Iker Casillas into a save. No one has scored on Spain since the first game of the tournament, and the last time Casillas conceded in the knockout stages of a major competition was 2006.
And though Fábio Coentrão grabbed his manhood to incense Pepe Reina and earn a booking in the first half, it was Sergio Ramos whose balls proved the most substantial. Two days after Andrea Pirlo put the 'Panenka' back en vogue and two months after the Real Madrid defender rifled a penalty closer to the moon than the goal in the Champions League semifinal loss to Bayern Munich, Ramos spooned his shot delicately over the diving Rui Patricio.
"You really need guts to shoot with Panenka's style," Casillas told Telecinco. "Ramos showed male attributes here."
Even the stoic Del Bosque, who barely smiled beneath his bushy beige mustache upon winning, enjoyed his defender's nerveless chip. "It seems to be fashionable now," he said. "I was delighted with it."
Alves stepped up next and – put off by Ramos' Panenka, overwhelmed by the mental toil of preparing not once but twice for a crucial penalty, or just not a terrific finisher – crushed his shot into the crossbeam. That left Ronaldo, named after U.S. president Ronald Reagan, mouthing "injustice" into the air and a whole slew of Portuguese players grumbling about the lottery of penalties. Luck certainly hadn't trickled down to them.
Except penalties aren't lotteries. The team to shoot first wins 60 percent of the time. If blame falls to Ronaldo, whose blistering determination seared the way for Portugal to enter the semifinals, it should be for losing the coin toss.
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