Thursday 22 March 2018

Euro 2012: Ronaldo feeling strain of living up to nation's great expectations

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2012 match between Portugal and Netherlands. Photo: Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2012 match between Portugal and Netherlands. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Hayward

There is a brutal expectation in tournaments that the world's best players will spread their peacock feathers and outshine lesser creatures as they do for their clubs.

Nothing less than a complete affirmation of their brilliance is acceptable.

This pressure bears down on Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal face Holland in Kharkiv in a group of death dominated by Germany.

How could Ronaldo fail to make Poland and Ukraine his private stage after 60 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid?

The conquest is not happening. Or not yet. So unforgiving are the standards that apply to players of Ronaldo's magisterial ability that one bad game has started an inquest into his contribution to the national side, who are in danger of going out.

Lionel Messi v Ronaldo is the duel of our age. The La Liga title race was a struggle between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho and the world's two finest attacking talents, who trampled the record books. Ronaldo came out on top, heading for Euro 2012 as trophy-winner and proven international talisman.

The grumbling started after he missed two one-on-one chances against the Denmark goalkeeper in the 3-2 victory in Lviv. The most blatant miscue came shortly before Nicklas Bendtner equalised to make it 2-2.

Portugal defender Pepe was quick to come to the defence of his Real Madrid team-mate: "Ronaldo is the best player in the world but even the best make mistakes and he can't carry the team on his back."

In this loyalty can be found a few clues. First, Ronaldo is not here as part of the winning machine Mourinho has constructed in Madrid. There, he performs his starring role in a settled side with a clear system that allows him to raid behind a top-class centre-forward in Karim Benzema. Here, the striker is Real Zaragoza's Helder Postiga, a lesser talent who frustrated Ronaldo with his decision-making in Lviv.

The role of world's most expensive footballer is a burden Ronaldo (27) has made less onerous with each month in Madrid. But national icon is another, weightier calling. Authority deserts the greatest players when anxiety jolts them out of their confident rhythms and chances are snatched at. Over-eagerness is the enemy even of geniuses.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, having lost their first two games in Group B, need arch-rivals Germany to beat Denmark tomorrow to stand any chance of making the quarter-finals. And, even then, they must beat Portugal by two goals.

If people want to know what is wrong with basically the same team that took Spain into extra-time before losing in the World Cup final two years ago, looking at the soul of the Dutch team is a perfect place to start.

Just as an army marches on its stomach, a forward line needs to feed off the strength of its defence. And that's where the Dutch problems start.

The lack of confidence and swagger at the back means the Dutch play with two defensive midfielders, Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, instead of the likes of the creative Rafael van der Vaart.

Perhaps that is why the Dutch were so conservative against Germany, letting the Germans play the kind of forward, creative game for which the Dutch have long been famous.


Six players falling back leaves huge gaps in midfield, further highlighted by the lack of pace of the 35-year-old Van Bommel in the sweltering evening heat of Kharkiv.

With Premier League top scorer Robin van Persie and Bundesliga counterpart Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at his disposal, Van Marwijk must have been the envy of so many coaches lacking even one world-class striker. But the embarrassment of riches has turned into embarrassment as the two have combined for a single goal despite a flurry of open chances, especially against Denmark.

Van Persie's gruelling season seems to have caught up with the striker, who has been guilty of some inexplicable misses in Ukraine.

Then there is Arjen Robben, another huge star on the world stage who has yet to shine at Euro 2012. His moves have been predictable for years, but somehow, like the hand speed of a world champion boxer, he was always able to act faster than defenders could think. Playmaker Wesley Sneijder is again on top of his form, but he can't do it on his own. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Portugal v Netherlands,

Live, RTE/UTV1, tomorrow, 7.45

Irish Independent

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