Ronaldo denied his moment in the spotlight
It was baffling that Cristiano Ronaldo did not take one. Portugal's captain had done everything else last night: left-winger, centre-forward, creative midfielder. He must have been waiting to take the fifth kick, the final kick, to win the shoot-out against Spain. But he never got the chance.
And so Ronaldo, the most influential player in the history of his country, was left powerless as they went out. He could not help them through the shoot-out and into the final. He could not atone for his miss at the end of normal time, which could have saved so much hassle.
Ronaldo must have been furious when Raul Meireles' last-minute pass arrived just behind him. Ronaldo had to readjust his feet but could only shoot over the bar. He had spent all evening hunting and probing for chances, using his versatility to find the gap to take Portugal into the final.
There is never a sense of a blind alley with Ronaldo. He started on the left wing, worried Spain, but when he did not score he moved inside. As a centre-forward he hit two powerful shots, but sensing space elsewhere he dropped deep, threading passes, winning free-kicks, but never scoring. For 90 minutes he took it upon himself to deliver the win, so can only have despaired when that final move did not quite materialise.
Ronaldo knew from the start what was needed to beat Spain. The reigning world and European champions have a style of play: they pass and pass and pass until their web stifles the opposition. The longer a game goes on, the more deadly they are.
So Ronaldo led them into battle. From the opening minutes he was bounding down the left, harrying Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa, looking for a slip. His first run came after 13 minutes when he stormed down the left, and reached the byline. From there he swung in a nearly perfect cross which Iker Casillas stole from Luis Nani's forehead.
Three minutes later he went again. He burnt down the left channel, this time confronted by Pique and Arbeloa. He ducked in between them and was brought down. The free-kick, though, was from too narrow an angle, and Ronaldo could not avoid the wall.
Versatility, though, is one of the greatest strengths of Ronaldo. He was a great winger before he was a great forward. And so he started to move inside as he led the search for an opening. Working, this time, on the edge of the box, the brilliant Joao Moutinho flicked him the ball. Ronaldo spun and volleyed, but did not impart enough control to keep it the exciting side of the cross-bar.
Sensing space in the same area, Ronaldo stayed alert. Next time Moutinho found him, Ronaldo took the ball down and spun inside Pique and put a shot past the post.
Two shots, both wide, and Ronaldo moved on. But he believes in efficiency and having exhausted the opportunities on the left and up front, he searched for more space, dropped deep.
Robbing Sergio Busquets in midfield, Ronaldo ran at Ramos who brought him down and was booked. Again, scaring the Spanish into giving him space, Ronaldo started to pick passes. Twice he threaded Hugo Almeida into the left channel.
But shooting, clearly, could not be trusted to his team-mates, so Ronaldo started to make the opportunities for himself.
He won a free-kick from Arbeloa, which he hit over. He won one from Xabi Alonso, was handed a second try after encroachment, but could still only shoot over. The frustration was that his best chance was still to come, but that he would decline the chance for another. (© Independent News Service)