By Charlie Scott
Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t do it in the big games apparently. He doesn’t perform as well as he should for his national team is another criticism often levelled at him. Maybe in the past, but not anymore.
It’s been a tough tournament for the Real Madrid man. In the first two group games he struggled, be it under the weight of expectations of the media and the Portugal fans, or his own. Whatever it was, something just didn’t click in Portugal’s games against Germany and Denmark.
In their opening encounter with the Germans, Ronaldo was crowded out and isolated on the wing by a well-organised counter-attacking side, while in the following game against Denmark, although his team won, again he was off-colour, missing two gilt-edged chances in the second half with the match still in the balance.
To make matters worse, during the course of the match against Denmark, he had to suffer the ignominy of listening to the opposition fans chant “Messi! Messi!” at him.
After the game, he hit back at those Danish fans who had chanted his rival’s name, and even fired a parting shot at Messi, saying “You know where he was at this time [last year]? Do you know? He was being eliminated in the Copa America, in his own country. I think that’s worse, no?”
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In the Seleccao’s final group game against Netherlands when they needed him most, he ran the show, scoring twice, hitting the post twice, and causing absolute havoc in what was arguably his finest performance in a Portugal shirt.
On Thursday evening in Warsaw he eradicated any doubt left in the minds of those who thought he didn’t perform in big games by producing another stunning display. Again he was on the scoresheet, and again, it sent his team through to the next round.
Not only that, he took his woodwork tally to four, once with an exceptional triple-bill of control, agility and balance to blast a shot off Petr Cech's post in the first half, then being wrongly denied a corner when Cech's outstretched fingertipstouched a fizzing free-kick onto the upright.
At club level, when at Manchester United and now at Real Madrid, Ronaldo has been surrounded by top classplayers, and while he is often the stand-outperformer, there are always players who can step up if he is having an off day.
What is terrifying for those teams left in this competition is that, at this point in time, that seems irrelevant. When Ronaldo is in the mood, as he has been for Portugal’s last two games, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the side are doing. The past two victories have been all down to him.
In the past, individual brilliance has led teams who were certainly good but arguably not great to victory in major competitions - on the back of Ronaldo’s current form, we may be in the process of seeing history repeat itself.
After the first two games people wanted fireworks. Ronaldo is certainly providing those.