By Carlo Garganese | Deputy Editor
Former Portugal star Joao Pinto has heaped praise on Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo, labelling the 26-year-old one of the top players ever produced in the country.
Ronaldo is widely expected to play a central role in Portugal's Euro 2012 campaign as the Seleccao look to clinch their first international title.
Some critics believe that the ex-Manchester United hero does not give his all for the national team and occasionally fails to perform in the big games, but Joao Pinto insists that is not the case.
"Ronaldo is physically and technically off the charts," Joao Pinto exclusively told Goal.com. "He carries a lot of burden on his shoulders, he has all the responsibility and people are looking to him and he still manages to succeed.
"But he is human, and like everyone else he has good games and bad games. He gets criticised a lot, much more than he deserves. He is an amazing player."
The former Benfica and Sporting CP attacker, who retired from football in 2008, then ranked his compatriot high in the list of talents who have emerged in Portugal.
"Portugal have had some amazing players, it is hard to pick just one," Joao Pinto noted. "Maybe Eusebio is regarded as the greatest historically, but as he was before my time I did not get to see him live, only images on the TV.
"Luis Figo was a very intelligent, very clever player who I got the chance to play with. Also, Cristiano Ronaldo, whom I played with at the very beginning of his career.
"These were all very strong and amazing players. But sometimes people forget about Paulo Futre, who was very, very unique."
Off the charts | Joao Pinto believes that there is no room to criticise Ronaldo
Questioned about the controversial penalty against France which denied Portugal access to the Euro 2000 final, Joao Pinto admitted that his then-colleague Abel Xavier handled the ball.
"At the time, it did not appear to be the right decision and we fought over what happened," the 40-year-old explained.
"But after seeing the incident on TV afterwards, it is clear that he touched the ball with his hand.
"We just wondered at that point, and it was our frustration, whether, if this had happened down the other end and it had been France making the handball, if the referee would have made the same decision. But, in any case, yes, it was a penalty."
Central defender Ricardo Carvalho recently retired from international football after falling out with coach Paulo Bento, but Joao Pinto believes that both parties should sit down and discuss the issue to come to an understanding.
"What happened to Ricardo was unfortunate – it is something that happens – but it should not be blown out of proportion," the ex-Boavista man added.
"I think it is what it is, he and the federation need to talk to work things out. I would like for Portugal to bring him back [for Euro 2012]."
Betclic.com is one of the leading online gaming companies in Europe offering odds on all the top football action. Betclic.com works with football legends such as Marcel Desailly, Ruud Gullit and Arrigo Sacchi, who are all brand ambassadors for the online bookmaker. Visit Betclic.com for all the latest odds!