Different ball game for wandering genius Cristiano Ronaldo – but the same result

 

The National Stadium

Cristiano Ronaldo may not have exactly arrived. But, in an international tournament, he has finally delivered. Repeatedly.

After a taut, tense game against the Czech Republic in Warsaw, the Portugal captain led by example to thunder a brilliant header past Petr Cech and put his team into the semi-finals of an international competition for the first time since the 2006 World Cup.

In that time, however, it had been one of the curious aspects of Ronaldo's career – his summer form for Portugal has been completely out of sync with his seasonal form for his clubs.

Since embarking on this absolutely sensational scoring run at the start of the 2007-08, he had endured his two worst tournaments, in 2008 and 2010. Indeed, prior to last Sunday against the Dutch, it was eight years since he scored a true goal of consequence at a summer campaign. His last, for example, was the sixth in a 7-0 win over North Korea. That wasn't the case last Sunday. And it certainly wasn't last night.

A very large caveat to Ronaldo's admittedly exceptional performance five days ago in Portugal's 2-1 win was that the Netherlands effectively played without a full-back on his flank as they chased the game. Last night, the Czechs certainly did not allow that. As such, it was all the more impressive that Ronaldo stepped up again to strike.

He was given an early example of how much more constrained this game was going to be when, on receiving the ball in a promising position on 17 minutes, he was immediately and aggressively crowded out by three defenders.

Ronaldo, however, was perfectly prepared to respond with abrasiveness himself. The game was barely minutes old when he berated a team-mate for misplacing a pass and, shortly after feeling the full force of the Czech backline, he used a bit of his own strength to push a marker out of the way and get flagged for a foul.

So, with space at such a premium, Ronaldo attempted to resort to the spectacular: first when he tried an ambitious bicycle kick in the penalty area, then – even more ambitiously – when he attempted one of his trademark long-range free-kicks.

But, while both of those efforts were well wide, the next was not. Ronaldo did absolutely exceptionally to chest the ball down in the box, turn and unluckily hit the post after beating Cech.

In the Dutch game, successive shots against the woodwork were signs he was starting to find his range. It proved to be the case again. Just after half-time, Ronaldo clipped the post with a dipping effort. It was the fourth time he had done so in this tournament.

Still, he could not quite escape the close attention of the Czech defenders in open play. Even when Raul Meireles delightfully put him through moments later, Ronaldo wasn't able to get enough space between himself and the persistent Theodor Gebre Selassie to get a clean sheet.

Of course, part of the problem with Ronaldo and Portugal – for whom he has only scored 0.41 goals a game since 2007 in contrast to 0.87 for his club teams – is the very space he occupies. More than most players at his exceptional level, Ronaldo requires a system to be completely built around him to excel. If teams don't construct counter-attacks to maximise his pace, his impact is minimised. Manchester United did that. Real Madrid do that. Portugal, however, do not. His runs are much more restricted.

On 79 minutes, though, he finally found the kind space that special players do. Getting clear of Gebre Selassie in the box at last, Ronaldo thumped the winning header home.

It may mark a watershed. It may well drive Portugal to the final. And, for an admitted ego like Ronaldo's , it may well see him finally reclaim that Ballon d'Or that he so craves.

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue