Where to begin?
|Pride of Portugal -- from A Bola|
Apparently, the plan Paulo Bento hatched in his brain was for the penalties to play themselves out to a 4-4 draw and Ronaldo would step up, bury the fifth one as he did in the 2006 World Cup, and Portugal would be sitting pretty with another extra day of rest awaiting Germany or Italy for the final. No thought given to Ronaldo going first, or second. No thought given as to why the world's second best player, the best player in this tournament, a guy on his way to becoming his country's greatest player, wouldn't take a penalty ahead of, say, two fullbacks and a pitiful playmaking midfielder who certainly left a pee stain on the penalty spot in Donetsk last night.
No, instead, we're gonna save you to the end. Because, you know. we'll get there.
So much good work undone by what was surely a joint decision to hold Ronaldo to fifth in line. Who's call is it? Ultimately and formally, it's Bento's. He's the boss. But surely he conferred with Ronaldo and the conversation probably went something like this: "Wanna go first?" "Nah, fifth." "Fifth?" "Fifth. I'll win it." "But." "Fifth."
Ronaldo's massive ego, I'm guessing, plays a role here. Going first is cool, but it's not as cool as fifth. For instance, you don't have as much time to decide on whether to spike the doo, or go with the comb-over if you go first. You don't have that lasting image of the camera following you after you make the game-winner; Christ, he probably already rehearsed his celebration--just in case, you know. I mean, who's gonna take the fifth one? Nelson Rodrigues? Child please.
Joao Moutinho, the sudden darling of this tournament for Portugal, went first. And he had a chance to give Portugal the early--and probably decisive edge--in penalties. Spain went first, and Xabi gagged on it and ever-heroic Rui Patricio made a clutch, fantastic, tremendous, ballsy save. He was everything Ronaldo wasn't yesterday--hell throughout the tournament. He was quiet, did his job and didn't fail. Enter Moutinho--not Ronaldo--who was absolutely stone cold terrified of the situation. Unsure over the ball, Moutinho basically wet himself putting the ball on the spot. He tip-toed behind the ball, made a feeble run and hit a weak effort that Iker Casillas surely giggled at. He swatted it away and all the good Patricio had done was wiped away.
Pepe and Nani made their PKs, as did Iniesta and Pique for Spain -- should we get into the Nani-Bruno Alves clusterfuck? Were they playing head games with Spain? Or did they truly not know the order? And was Alves really ready mentally to go, and Nani pulling him back screwed the pooch? Who knows? What we saw was Alves hit a bomb, a titanic shot to Casillas' left, high and out of reach of the Spain keeper. if not for that pesky crossbar, we'd be talking about Portgual in the final perhaps--you know, with Ronaldo burying the fifth one.
Instead, Cesc Fabregas stepped up. Patricio stared him down and didn't move an millimeter. The keeper guessed correctly and dove to his right. Fabregas hit the ball in that direction and the ball clanged off the post and ricocheted into the goal, crossing the line by inches as it settled into the opposite netting, surely smirking at Ronaldo as it rolled home.
Injustica. Sure Cristiano. But why unjust? Because you lost, or because you were robbed of a golden moment? I'm sure it's a little bit of both for you. And that's sad for a nation that surely wept, because Portugal was heroic this month--you too Cristiano. Portugal could have conjured up a win in the final, just as it could have beaten the defending World Cup and Euro champions yesterday. But a cavalcade of decisions--don't even get me started on how Portugal played 30 minutes of extra time on its heels allowing Spain to attack (Patricio is this team's MVP)--undid this team at the worst possible time.