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The 26-year-old hasn't hit the heights for his country in major tournaments, but will need to be at his very best next summer if Paulo Bento's men are to make the second round

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

It could hardly have been a tougher draw for Portugal. The need to accommodate two tournament co-hosts in Pot 1 had seen Germany - many pundits' pick for Euro 2012 glory - relegated to Pot 2, while Spain and the Netherlands awaited perilously in the strongest sector. The fear for any side - let alone Portugal, arguably the finest team outside of pre-draw Pots 1 and 2 - was to draw two of those three. But it happened to Paulo Bento's side and, on top of that, they were also pitted against the team who finished above them in qualifying - Denmark.

"We have been drawn in the hardest group of all," said Bento afterwards. Germany coach Joachim Low and Netherlands boss Bert van Marwijk agreed, while Peter Schmeichel summed up the Danish mood when he claimed on Twitter that he needed a beer.

In the cold light of day, however, a closer look at Group B will be a sobering prospect for all associated. And while Denmark look the weakest of the four sides, despite their form in the qualifiers, Portugal will believe that passage to the last eight is a real possibility. To achieve it, however, they need Cristiano Ronaldo - and they need him at his very best.


PORTUGAL'S DRAW - GROUP B

Netherlands Germany Portugal Denmark
 
June 9
6pm
Netherlands vs Denmark Metalist Stadium
Kharkiv
June 9
8.45pm
Germany vs Portugal
Arena Lviv
Lviv
June 13
6pm
Denmark vs Portugal    Arena Lviv
Lviv
June 13
8.45pm
Netherlands vs Germany Metalist Stadium
Kharkiv
June 17
8.45pm
Portugal vs Netherlands   Metalist Stadium
Kharkiv
June 17
8.45pm
Denmark vs Germany
Arena Lviv
Lviv

And therein lies the problem: Ronaldo is simply sensational for Real Madrid - but is less decisive for his national side in major tournaments. Indeed, one criticism often levelled at the 26-year-old is his perceived poor performances in the very biggest games. And while that seems a harsh appraisal of a man who has scored in several showpiece finals, including the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Copa del Rey, he is clearly a player who can leave you frustrated when things are not going according to plan. His last game at Manchester United, a 2-0 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, is testament to that fact as he shot from all angles in an embarrassing one-man show which left his team-mates infuriated. And his indifferent displays for Portugal in major competitions have left plenty to be desired, too.

In 2004, Ronaldo began the European Championships as a substitute in a Portugal side still relying on the brilliance of Luis Figo. He came off the bench to score in the opening match, a 2-1 defeat to Greece which, incredibly, turned out to be a precursor for the final itself. The Portuguese, playing on home soil, had advanced to the last game thanks to a 2-1 win over the Netherlands in which Cristiano had headed the opening goal. But he was unable to produce in the final as Greece shocked their hosts - and the watching world - to claim the trophy. Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure as he sat slumped on the pitch.


Greek tragedy | Ronaldo lost out in the final of Euro 2004 - in Portugal

By Germany 2006, Ronaldo had established himself for his country. Having scored seven goals in his side's qualifying campaign, the forward was now a fixture in the first XI, but he was to be remembered for all the wrong reasons as his petulant protests in the quarter-final victory over England resulted in the dismissal of his then-Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney and was caught on camera winking to the Portuguese bench.

England fans, having anticipated a last-four clash with Brazil, had snapped up the majority of tickets to the semi-final meeting with France, who had shocked the South Americans in another quarter-final and made Ronaldo's night a misery. They also sent a petition to Fifa to prevent the Portuguese from scooping the award for the tournament's best young player. And it worked, as the organisation decided they could do without the negative press - and chose Germany's Lukas Podolski instead.

In truth, however, Ronaldo had flattered to deceive anyway. There were plenty of flashy forays and dazzling dribbles, but there was little end product; so often a mazy run would end with an overhit cross or a wayward shot on goal.

Impressive again in qualifying for Euro 2008, this time with eight goals, Ronaldo was unable to inspire a poor Portugal side at the following major tournament in Austria and Swtizerland, netting just once as Carlos Queiroz's side were knocked out by Germany in the last eight.

The World Cup in South Africa would prove to be another disappointment. A solitary goal among seven against North Korea ended a 16-month barren run in front of goal and Ronaldo showed signs of evolution as he laid on goals for his grateful team-mates, but a defensively-minded Portugal succumbed to Spain in the last 16. Ronaldo, a peripheral figure, blamed Queiroz - and most of Portugal agreed with him.

But there can be no excuses next summer. By the time the Euros come around, Ronaldo will be at his peak physically and 2012 could represent his best opportunity for silverware with his national side - if they can get past Germany and the Netherlands. He is in the form of his life at Real Madrid and looks like becoming a more complete player under Jose Mourinho, adding assists aplenty to his phenomenal strike-rate in front of goal. So all of the ingredients are there, but it's time for Portugal's prime performer to take it up a notch at Euro 2012. Cristiano Ronaldo - your country needs you!

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