Cristiano Ronaldo calls for Lisbon to support Madrid
Star forward banks on home comforts as Real chase elusive 'Decima'
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the scene of one of his biggest disappointments on Saturday hoping to enjoy potentially the greatest night of his career.
It was 10 years ago in the Estadio da Luz that Angelos Charisteas' goal earned Otto Rehhagel's Greece side a 1-0 win in the European Championship final, denying Portugal a triumph on home soil.
"I hope the Portuguese supporters will be backing Real Madrid," said Ronaldo this week. "I hope they become Madrid fans for myself and Fabio Coentrao and Pepe. Supporters win games so I hope they are behind us."
Portugal became the first host nation to lose a Euro final in 2004 but Lisbon was a lucky city for Ronaldo long before it was an unlucky one. It was in 1997 when he first visited the Portuguese capital after representatives of Sporting, including the then coach Leonel Pontes, travelled to Madeira to persuade him and his father to come for a trial.
Watching the young Ronaldo train with 13-year-olds at Sporting, Pontes was convinced the 12-year-old boy wonder from Nacional was worth signing and Sporting's then owner Aurelio Pereira paid around £18,000 to bring him to the club.
That summer his mother, Dolores, signed his first contract and packed her son off to Lisbon, where he developed into one of the best young players in Europe, attracting the attention of Internazionale, Arsenal and, ultimately, Manchester United.
Those memories will return tomorrow as he goes home to achieve something that, short of winning the Euros or a World Cup with Portugal, is very difficult to see him topping.
The 10th Real Madrid European Cup – La Decima – is the club's obsession. They never tire of reminding the rest of Spain they were voted the club of the 20th century by Fifa because of their domination of the European Cup.
This century the pendulum has swung the way of Barcelona, but they can equal Barca for wins since 2000 with victory against Atletico Madrid on Saturday and, most importantly of all, be the first side to make it to 10.
Ronaldo is already this season's player of the competition. In 10 games he has scored 16 goals, more than anyone has ever managed in a single Champions League or European Cup campaign.
"Real Madrid deserves to win the competition this year because of all the hard work put in over the last four years," he said.
The reference to the previous three seasons is an important one. Each of Jose Mourinho's campaigns ended with Real being beaten in the semi-finals.
In 2011 it was at the hands of Barcelona amid dressing-room disagreements over Mourinho's decision to sit back in the first leg at home and try to hit Barcelona on the break at the Nou Camp in the second. It might have worked had Pepe not been sent off in the second half at the Bernabeu and Lionel Messi scored twice against 10 men.
Even before the red card for his Portuguese team-mate, Ronaldo had been strongly against the idea of not attacking Barca. Making the most of home advantage and a recent Copa del Rey final victory over them – a game in which Ronaldo had scored the winner – was how he wanted the game to be played.
The following year he was a penalty shoot-out away from the final but lost out to Bayern Munich, who were then beaten in the final by Chelsea. He missed one of the penalty-kicks in the shoot-out.
Last season it was Borussia Dortmund who put paid to Ronaldo's dream, with four goals from Robert Lewandowski in the first game making the return at the Bernabeu a formality for Jurgen Klopp's side.
This year it was the Germans who came out second-best in the semi-final and the mauling of Bayern 5-0 on aggregate has convinced Real's supporters that this is their season.
"The game will more than likely turn on one incident. We need to not make any defensive errors and take our chances," said Ronaldo, whose 31 goals in La Liga this season meant that he shared the Golden Boot with Liverpool's Luis Suarez.
Ronaldo must beat Thibaut Courtois to add to his overall tally with Real of 251 in five seasons. The Atletico goalkeeper, who is on loan from Chelsea, has conceded only six goals in 11 Champions League games after a domestic season in which he let in just 24 in 37 games.
Ronaldo is more than aware of how difficult it is to beat Atletico. Diego Simeone's team are the only unbeaten side in this year's Champions League.
They also showed their mettle last season when they beat Real in the Spanish Cup final at the Bernabeu and Ronaldo was sent off. Home advantage did not suit him then, he can only hope it helps him now. (© Independent News Service)