Friday 30 September 2016

Unsatisfactory end to Cristiano's coup de grace

Sam Wallace

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after suffering a knee injury during the first-half of last night’s final following a tackle by Dimitri Payet. Photo: Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after suffering a knee injury during the first-half of last night’s final following a tackle by Dimitri Payet. Photo: Getty Images

It was not supposed to end this way, just 18 minutes into arguably the greatest final of his life, with a moth settling on one of his finely sculpted eyebrows and a pain in his left knee that not even the best-developed quad muscles in world football could disperse.

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This was Cristiano Ronaldo's Euro 2016 final, the greatest non-event in a career in which even home games for Real Madrid against Elche have become events - ones that are watched all over the world.

This was the end for Ronaldo 25 minutes into the night that he had waited for ever since he shed tears in Lisbon 12 years earlier when he was the teenage star of a Portugal team that unaccountably lost to Greece in the final of Euro 2004.

So much in the professional life of the global super-brand that is CR7 has gone stupendously well: a goalscoring total each season that a decent middle-order batsman would be pleased to make, and a starring role in the most glittering cast of stars in any club anywhere in the world.

There is the most famous six-pack in football, a house that looks like a six-star hotel, and biopics on general release about his young life.

Yet in Paris there seemed destined to be a sad ending until Eder's extra-time intervention.

The tackle that ended Ronaldo's night was not even a foul in the view of most professional observers. Just a firm tackle from West Ham's Dimitri Payet who played the ball with his left foot and brought his right knee slamming through Ronaldo's left, sending European football's most carefully configured mass of knee ligaments and muscle tissue into a trauma from which they would not recover.

The second time Ronaldo hit the deck in frustration at a pain that would not pass was after 18 minutes and already he was sobbing as one of the moths from the infestation that plagued the Stade de France alighted on his eyebrow.

Read More: Portugal rise above Ronaldo injury to ruin French party

He went off for some strapping to the knee in question but already everyone knew that the game was up for the great No 7 and there would be no recovery from this one.

Ronaldo came to the side of the pitch with that distinctive gun-slinger's walk, feet at 10 to two and shoulders rolling, but there would be no more shots fired.

The footballer that rarely ever gets injured, protected by that carapace of ripped abs and gym-fresh pecs, had been cut down on one of his nights of glory.

Prancing

It was a run through the centre of the pitch seven minutes later that told him and the bench that the game was up.

There was still Ronaldo doing that prancing trademark Ronaldo high knee-lift running style but he moved so slowly that there was a gasp around the place.

He released the ball and waved the wave of a man who could play no longer. Ricardo Quaresma went to warm up, a new laurel leaf design cut into his hair and dyed peroxide blond.

And so it was one putative young emperor came on for the undisputed emperor of all.

First Ronaldo ceremoniously handed over the armband to Luis Nani while referee Mark Clattenburg kept a respectful distance rather than hurry things up. Ronaldo could have walked off the pitch but as befitting his status he was, by then tearful, taken off on a stretcher - a worrier carried off on his shield.

You might have been forgiven for thinking that we had gathered to witness a state funeral as Didier Deschamps moved over to pat Ronaldo on the arm as he went by the dugouts.

Read More: Sharper mind of Santos inspires Portuguese to their finest hour

Some among the France fans applauded and there was booing as well but generally there was a sadness that arguably one of the most interesting plotlines of the whole night had departed without firing a shot.

Ronaldo may be one of the two most famous footballers in the world but there can be no question that above all that he loves playing the game, and the bigger the stage the better.

He has earned his place there among the greats and this was intended to be his crowning glory on the occasion of his 133rd cap for Portugal.

Instead he had to leave it to the collection of hard-runners and foot-in merchants that make up the rest of a very average, if ultimately glorious, Portugal side.

No-one could question Ronaldo's service to Portugal, and you doubt that it will end here, with at least one more shot in Russia at the World Cup finals two years away.

He does like to have it his own way, and on his own terms, but every game he plays in is the better for having him there.

Tactical

As he left staring upwards at a darkening Paris sky, there was at least not much of a big tactical switch for coach Fernando Santos to worry about.

Portugal's evening was about defending, although they would miss Ronaldo's presence at corners and free-kicks played into their area.

This was a night for William Carvalho to stand in the channels that France tried to play through, and for Pepe and Jose Fonte to keep their concentration.

Read More: Far from vintage football but dreams became reality

Less than 10 minutes after Ronaldo had departed there was a moment when Cedric Soares, the Southampton full-back who had made the fateful pass to his captain, left a bit on Payet and was booked.

It might just have been a misjudgement but just as likely a little reminder to the Frenchman that no-one does what he did, however inadvertently, to a great Portuguese hero and gets away with it.

Somewhere in the dressing rooms of the Stade de France, you could imagine the great No 7 nodding in approval, and then quietly suppressing another sob at a moment in history that had passed him by. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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