Blistering Ronaldo sends Portugal through

“This earns me a lifetime supply of hair gel! Get in!”

Before and during the Euro 2012 quarter final between Portugal and the Czech Republic, much of the focus was on the captain and talisman of the former. Cristiano Ronaldo previously grabbed two goals to knock Holland out, and the question was whether he could drag his country into the semi-finals.

The question was answered emphatically. While both sides had spells of pressure – Portugal probably spending more time in the ascendancy – there was one clear protagonist, and it was he, Ronaldo, that scored the winning goal.

In the 79th minute, compatriot Joao Moutinho made a burst from midfield to reach the ball ahead of a Czech defender, and swung in an inviting cross. It evaded first half substitute Hugo Almeida, but Ronaldo came steaming in from behind, stealing in to beat Theodore Gebre-Selassie to the ball, and sent a diving header crashing past Petr Cech.

It had, in fairness, been coming. Ronaldo had been the player most likely to put Paulo Bento’s side in front, threatening from free kicks and using his quick feet, magic footwork, lightning pace and raw power to frequently leave defenders eating his metaphorical dust. His control was also impeccable at times – at one point he chested down a lofted pass in the box, and, having spun and taken the ball with him, fired against the post from a narrow-angled volley.

The Real Madrid forward had looked at his inspired best, and his performance was at times simply electric. Occasionally he had looked upset with the service provided, and threw miniature tantrums when not awarded free kicks, but when given he was given a chance, defenders struggled to live with him.

Ronaldo was clearly in the mood after his match-winning performance against Holland, and even tried a spectacular over-head when afforded space in the box. It flew wide, but it was a sign of things to come. In true “CR7” style, he was in charge of direct free kicks, and hit one delicious, swerving effort which struck the post midway through the second half.

While many agree that he suffers from a lack of players on the same wave-length and level of quality with Portugal – although few of that description exist in the world – and could do with more support, he has recently seemed to benefit from being the star man. As the undoubted key player of the side, he is responsible for a huge amount of their attacking output, and when in the right frame of mind he seems to thrive on those responsibilities.

Although, while his performance was superb and his contribution vital, he wasn’t the only Portuguese player to have a fine game. Besides the mercurial Ronaldo, his club-mate Fabio Coentrão had an excellent game, rampaging up and down the left flank to excellent effect; his speed unmatched by his opposite numbers down the wing. Joao Moutinho also had a good game, keeping things simple in midfield and applying the assist for his captain, as well as forcing Petr Cech into a smart save with a fine effort.

In the end, though, it was Ronaldo who made his mark on the quarter final, after a few moments of petulance as well as some magic ones. He often pulled miserable faces when passes weren’t delivered to his liking, and made his emotions clear when not awarded free kicks to which he felt he was entitled.

Despite these instances where he threatened to throw his toys out of the pram, though, he pulled it out of the bag when it counted. Accusations of not being a big-game player may start to fade away after Euro 2012, especially if he takes Portugal all the way – although there is still some distance to go yet, including a possible final meeting with favourites Germany.

Philipp Lahm has often gotten the better of Ronaldo in their frequent match-ups, with Germany and Bayern Munich sometimes switching the full back to whichever side the Portuguese winger is on in order to nullify the threat he poses. In modern day football, however, with attacking players roaming around the pitch and swapping positions at will, that’s not always enough.

Time will tell whether Lahm and Germany have enough in their respective lockers to stop Ronaldo in his burning tracks, although Greece will be hoping to have a say in that matter in the next quarter final. Portugal will face one of Spain and France in the semi-final, and Ronaldo may prefer to take on Spain, considering he’ll be familiar with the majority of the players.

Whoever Portugal and Ronaldo face from now on, the forward will be determined to silence the doubters and at long last making his presence truly felt on the international stage, writing his name into the history books in the process.

This post first appeared on Sabotage Times.

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