By Enis Koylu
Here's the scenario. Cristiano Ronaldo has set Euro 2012 alight with his match-winning performances against both Netherlands and Czech Republic, and currently sits joint top of the goalscoring charts with three strikes to his name.
But while Ronaldo will rightly claim that his main focus against Spain on Wednesday will be helping his country secure a berth in the final, and possibly a first-ever European crown for the Seleccao, the race for the Golden Boot in the tournament could have been a foregone conclusion by now if he had enjoyed a little more luck: he has struck the woodwork a frustrating four times in his four games to date.
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That was when Ronaldo's personal 'crossbar challenge' began. After falling behind to an early Rafael van der Vaart goal in the Oranje clash, Ronaldo led his team's fight-back, scoring twice and striking the woodwork on two occasions too.
In the quarter-final, Portuguese dominance was masked by a mere 1-0 scoreline, but the tie could have been over long before Ronaldo's 79th minute winner, due to the 27-year-old hitting the woodwork either side of half-time - with Petr Cech's fingertips stopping one trademark free-kick from flying in.
This begs the question: are Portugal the best attacking team in the competition? All of the pre-tournament talk was understandably centred around Germany's expansive passing and Spain's all-star cast of creative midfielders, but it is worth noting that Joachim Low's side could have suffered an early exit had the two Portuguese efforts, or even Jakob Poulsen's strike on matchday three found the net.
The tournament could have looked incredibly different if every attempt that has hit the woodwork had gone in. Sweden considered themselves dark horses at the start of Group D, and may well have progressed to the knockout stages if Zlatan Ibrahimovic's first-half strike against Ukraine had not cannoned off the post. Sweden did not let two further strikes smashing the woodwork hamper them in their final group game against France, however, in a 2-0 win. But it was too little too late.
Netherlands will go down as the flops of the tournament, but things could have been so very different for Bert van Marwijk's men if Arjen Robben's first-half strike had got them back on track against Denmark, or even if Rafael van der Vaart had notched a second against Portugal in their final group game. Unfortunately for the Dutch, both strikes bounced back off the frame of the goal.
Andrea Pirlo's 'Panenka' penalty is sure to be remembered as one of the most iconic images of Euro 2012, but it would never have occurred if either Daniele De Rossi's first-half volley, or Alessandro Diamanti's cross-shot had snuck inside the post during Italy's shootout quarter-final victory over miserable England.
To look at Ronaldo's incredible record another way, one could argue that it bodes ominously for Portugal. He has had a grand total of 29 efforts on goal across the tournament, far more than anyone else, and just under half of his team's attempts. When he misfires, as he did against Germany and Denmark, Portugal struggle - he is understandably the focal point of every Seleccao attack.
No other player has hit the woodwork more than once in Euro 2012. It took Gomez, Ronaldo's strongest rival for the golden boot, four shots on target to net three goals. Ronaldo reached that figure with 14 and has thus been far less clinical.
Against Spain, there will not be such margin for error. La Roja have shipped just one goal to date, less than any other side, so chances will be sparse on Wednesday. On a personal level, the semi-final will give Ronaldo an opportunity to heap more misery on Barcelona stalwarts such as Xavi, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta.
If Ronaldo, and the rest of Paulo Bento's side, are to make up for the decade of near misses that have preceded Euro 2012, he will certainly need to improve his shot conversion rate.
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