Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo silencing the critics | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerPortugal's Cristiano Ronaldo silencing the critics

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 | 08:47 PM

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Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after his squad defeated the Czech Republic on Thursday at National Stadium in Warsaw. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images) Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after his squad defeated the Czech Republic on Thursday at National Stadium in Warsaw. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

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A man so supremely talented and yet so regularly chastised for failing to show up for national service has, at last, quieted the cynics. Cristiano Ronaldo has led his country into the final four and has fans believing he can propel Portugal into the Promised Land.
Finally he is earning the armband.
 
A man so supremely talented and yet so regularly chastised for failing to show up for national service has, at last, quieted the cynics. Cristiano Ronaldo has led his country into the final four and has the fans believing he can propel Portugal all the way to the Promised Land.
 
One headed goal was enough. It was late in arriving but on another night Ronaldo might have taken the match ball back to the team hotel after notching a hat-trick. The mercurial striker struck the Czech Republic woodwork twice before his game-winning intervention with little more than ten minutes remaining.
 
It was one of those nights. The battle was embarrassingly one-sided but the breakthrough would not come. At times it resembled an old school prize fight - two contenders in the ring - one taking enormous punishment but refusing to yield to the knock-out punch as instinct alone kept him on his feet.
 
The Czechs got what they deserved - nothing. They came not to play but to spoil, hoping for an occasional counter attack and would probably have settled for a shoot-out before a ball was kicked. It is all very well respecting an opponent but the tactics were depressingly negative. Few will miss the Czechs who exited the tournament without registering a single shot on target in the first quarter-final.
 
At times Ronaldo is his own worst enemy. What we politely refer to as 'simulation' is part of his weaponry. He can also be selfish, reactionary and over elaborate. It is also true, for significant parts of his international career, the Portuguese captain has been missing in action.
 
But he is one heck of a footballer. Sickeningly, for opponents, he has it all. Pace, poise and precision from free kicks and while many gush about his magic feet, Ronaldo has always been a good header of the ball. He didn't need a second invitation to meet Moutinho's cross and finally settle the issue in Warsaw.

Surviving the Group of Death
 
Portugal is evolving nicely. Having survived the so-called Group of Death after losing the opening game to Germany, Paulo Bento's team is growing in stature and confidence as the tournament progresses. The Portuguese have won three in a row and can no longer be viewed as dark horses.
 
We shouldn't be surprised. While all the pre-Euro hype surrounded Spain and Germany, Portugal boasts an enviable record at the European Championships. In each of the last four editions, dating back to 1996, the Portuguese have never failed to reach the knock out stages. In 2000 they were beaten semifinalists and four years later were runners-up on home soil.
 
So what next for CR7 and company? The hill is going to get steeper. Ronaldo, Nani and Moutinho looked good against the Czech Republic but how will they respond against Spain or France who have the talent and the game plan to test them defensively?
 
At the last World Cup, Portugal met Spain in the round of 16. David Villa scored the only goal midway through the second half but my abiding memory of that game was the amount of time Ronaldo spent in his own half of the field trying, desperately, to pry possession from the eventual world champions.
 
Love him or loathe him, Cristiano Ronaldo is a game changer. He could go on to become Player of the Tournament; but only if he can play on the other side of the halfway line.

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