For Portugal’s golden boy of football, the country’s 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 was more than just a victory to advance to the semis. It was another step towards exorcising past demons.
Cristiano Ronaldo, long considered as one of the two best football players in the world alongside Lionel Messi, proved once and for all why he is who he is, powering Portugal to the semifinals with a powerful header in the 79th minute of the match. The goal, his third in the last two matches, served as a reminder to all those who have maligned his international performance in the past, as if saying “I’m still the best player in the world, bitches”.
We can talk about the Ronaldo/Messi debate some other time; for now, this is about a man with the golden boot and the million-dollar smile, whose team is two wins away from the title it let slip away eight years ago.
That upset at the hands of eventual champions Greece in the 2004 finals still burns a crevice in the hearts of Portugal, none more so than to the then 19-year sensation who sobbed inconsolably after losing to Greece, 1-0 in, of all places, Lisbon, Portugal.
Going in as the favorites against the Czech Republic, Portugal didn’t give their rivals much of a chance, dominating the action and emphatically creating scoring chance after scoring chance. Despite missing on their opportunities, it was pretty evident that a goal wasn’t a question of ‘if’ as it was ‘when’ it was coming. With 11 minutes left in the match, Ronaldo had his breakthrough, receiving a cross from Joao Moutinho and sending the ball to the net with a powerful diving header past the hands of Peter Cech.
From here, Portugal will meet either Spain or France in the semi-finals. For Ronaldo and the rest of the team, it doesn’t matter if they’re facing red or blue on Wednesday. They’re all enemies at this point; roadblocks that Portugal has to go through on its way to football redemption.
If you’ve been a fan of the team, you know that they’re galaxy revolves around the superstar striker. They ride or die by his golden boot, a testament to his undeniable skill and the heavy burden he carries for team and country. In observing the way Ronaldo has played in this tournament, you know that you’re looking at someone who, contrary to his stature as one of the game’s best, still has a whole lot more to prove at this level. This isn’t La Liga or the Premier League, where he has crafted a throne all unto himself.
This is the international stage, a totally different environment where the stakes are higher, the pressure is magnified, and failure could lead to a catastrophic fall from grace. Just ask David Beckham.
But when you look at what he’s done, especially in the last two matches against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, you can see a sense of purpose in his eyes; a calmness permeating despite the responsibility he’s carrying for his country.
Cristiano Ronaldo a man on a mission, and with two more wins separating himself from vindication, he knows that redemption is at hand. Validation is within reach. The stage has been set and the whole world is watching. The Portugal captain is two wins away from leading his team to a title they should have won eight years ago.
Only this time, he’s no longer a neophyte playing behind established stars in one of the biggest football stages in the world. The man IS the star, one who is at the peak of his powers and is serving notice to everyone that he’s coming to settle some unfinished business that was left out on the field in 2004.
Cristiano Ronaldo is here in Euro 2012, and he’s coming to stake claim to Portugal’s lost crown.