For a player that has won almost everything on an individual and collective level, the one honour that agonisingly evades Cristiano Ronaldo is an international trophy with Portugal.
Euro 2016 will be Ronaldo’s fourth and at 31 possibly last European Championship finals.
The previous three have all promised much only to end in varying degrees of disappointment for the three-time World Player of the Year. There have also been tears and torment.
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro has long been destined for greatness. In the year of his 16th birthday, he played for Sporting Lisbon’s under-16, under-17, under-18, reserve and first teams.
Two years later, he had been snapped up by Manchester United, whose boss Alex Ferguson had been impressed by the teenager in a United-Sporting friendly. The No. 7 shirt became synonymous with Ronaldo.
In 2004, Ronaldo announced his presence on the international stage, scoring twice as Portugal reached the final on home soil before suffering a devastating defeat to shock winners Greece.
Four years later, Ronaldo looked set to make amends. He was at the prime of his career having led Manchester United to the Champions League a month before arriving in Austria and Switzerland.
– Euro ghosts –
Yet, distracted by protracted rumours about his switch from United to Real Madrid — that would only come about a year later — Ronaldo found the net just once as after an impressive group stage, Portugal bowed out to Germany in the quarter-finals.
Euro 2012 will arguably haunt the Madeira-born superstar the most.
Ronaldo came into the tournament on the back of a record-breaking 60-goal season with Madrid as they ended the dominance of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side in Spain to win La Liga.
His double against the Netherlands led Portugal out of the cliched group of death also including Germany.
Ronaldo struck the winner against the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals, but watched on in anguish as Portugal again fell short by the finest of margins against a Spain side replete with Barca players exacted revenge on penalties in the semi-finals.
Never one to shy away from the big moment, Ronaldo’s desire for glory got the better of him as he opted to take Portugal’s fifth penalty. The problem was the shootout never got that far as Spain won 5-3 leaving Ronaldo to look ruefully at the Donetsk night sky claiming there was “no justice”.
As well the grand collective prize, there are also individual accolades on offer that will entice a record hoarder like Ronaldo.
He can become the first man to score in four European Championships and is just three goals from Michel Platini’s record of nine in the finals.
Both targets look eminently achievable in a group containing tournament debutants Iceland, Hungary — in their first major tournament since 1986 — and Austria.
The chance to deliver a telling blow in his eternal battle with Lionel Messi for another Ballon d’Or is also at stake.
Yet, even for the preening peacock Ronaldo, after the millions earned, league titles and Champions Leagues won in Manchester and Madrid, the real goal must finally be delivering for his country.
“There will be many other opportunities to win in Europe throughout my career, and make up for this huge disappointment,” he said as a 19-year-old after defeat to Greece in 2004.
If he is ever to win the Euros, Paris on July 10th is likely to be the last call. – Agence France-Presse