Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cristiano Ronaldo's Destiny Depends on His Dominance of Euro 2012

Despite it being a physical impossibility, Lionel Messi casts a big shadow over the super-sized ego and talents of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona's Messi usually outscores Real Madrid's Ronaldo. Barca is the team of the century largely because of the diminutive Messi's amazing balance, instinct and ability. Ronaldo, meanwhile, has two Champions League titles, a handful of domestic championships, has scored close to 300 goals in his career. And still, Messi is first in line--and not because he's shorter or ahead of Ronaldo alphabetically.
Irina Shayk Ronaldo?

As sensational as CR7 is, Messi is just that much better. Little man, big shadow.

Yet with Euro 2012 on our doorstep in 24 hours, Ronaldo won't have that built-in Messi excuse. Leo will be home watching, or lounging on a beach with a babe somehwere, while Ronaldo has the weight of expectation on his shoulders. No excuses CR7, this is your tournament to own, manhandle and perhaps win.

This is by some accounts not a very strong or deep Portugal side. They're built ass-backwards, relatively weak in the back, and top heavy with flashy talent up front. Not to mention they're in Group B, the Group of Death along with Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. This is a tall mountain to climb for the Selecao Das Quinas, yet they've got a pretty agile dude up front on the left-hand side who can take this team to the summit.

Much like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't exactly set the world on fire wearing his national team jersey. In 90 capped appearances, he has 32 goals, that's one every three matches. Fast-forward that to the Euro, and that's not a good ratio--one goal in the group stage won't get it done.

Ronaldo clearly will draw extra attention from any opponent, but that hasn't stopped him from scoring at better than a goal a game in his domestic career. But he hasn't come close to matching that pace for Portugal. He scored 46 times domestically for Real Madrid this season leading that team to the La Liga title, his first in Spain and the first time he nudged Messi off any pedestal. Ronaldo has 127 goals in all competitions over the last two season, a seriously Xbox 360-like number of tallies. 

He has domestic championships, Champions League winners' medals, domestic cup wins. The international cup vacancy on his mantle is pretty glaring. Getting to the 2004 Euro final was little of his doing. He had a pretty fair World Cup in 2006, hitting a big penalty to beat England in the quarterfinals. Yet Portugal crashed out in the semis, and in the second round of the 2008 Euro and 2010 World Cup.

Superstars step up on the brightest stage. Michael Jordan always took the last shot--and made most of them. Larry Bird cut your heart out in the fourth quarter. The Montreal Canadiens always won in overtime in the playoffs. Joe Montana and Tom Brady always come through when it counts. Cristiano Ronaldo is on that plane, higher considering the worldwide audience. His Portugal legacy has to be cemented on Saturday against Germany. He lacks that two-goal masterpiece in a must-have game on his international resume. He needs to shake off close, physical markers in big games. He cannot rely on diving to win favor with officials. He needs to bury a trademark knuckleball free kick with the world watching.

He won't be against Malaga or Macedonia in the Euro. Three of Europe's best await, and if Cristiano Ronaldo wants to be Michael Jordan, he has to hoist this Portugal team on his back and carry them. He has to dominate against Germany. He has to demand the ball, dance through the German back line and score not once, but twice. The Germans must have reason to fear him, not just respect him.

This will not be an easy road for Portugal, but this is the time when stars shine. Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal's true star. Do the math.

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