Euro 2024: Misfiring Ronaldo sinks in tears as Portugal ride on Costa heroics | Football News

Euro 2024: Misfiring Ronaldo sinks in tears as Portugal ride on Costa heroics | Football News

Mumbai: What was it, really? What prompted one of the greatest football players to sob uncontrollably on the pitch in the middle of a match? Was it the disappointment of letting down his teammates and supporters? Was it the shock of experiencing the sort of setback that mere mortals, unlike him, tend to face regularly? Was there embarrassment? Perhaps it was all these things. What we do know for sure is that the end of the road for Cristiano Ronaldo is probably nearer than we had imagined.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is consoled by Ruben Dias during their team’s win over Slovenia at the Euro 2024 last-16 stage. (AFP)
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is consoled by Ruben Dias during their team’s win over Slovenia at the Euro 2024 last-16 stage. (AFP)

It happened at the end of the first half of extra time in the Euro 2024 last 16 clash between Portugal and Slovenia at the Frankfurt Arena on Monday. About half an hour before Diogo Costa pulled off a sensational hat-trick of saves to help Portugal edge out Slovenia in the penalty shootout and set up a Euro quarter-final showdown with France.

Both teams had slugged it out for over 100 minutes without a goal when Ronaldo stepped up to take a penalty against Jan Oblak. The two captains had history between them, with Ronaldo having scored 11 goals, including three hat-tricks, past the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper during his Real Madrid days. The Portuguese superstar had a golden opportunity to take his team past the round of 16, the stage they exited in the previous edition. But his shot was blocked by Oblak. Ronaldo had failed to convert a penalty for the first time in two-and-a-half years.

Ronaldo, who scored goals for fun in his prime and has won almost every accolade there is, stood in disbelief, the 39-year-old holding his head on his hands as his counterpart exulted. And then it began. A stunning outpouring of emotions that will be one of the lasting memories of Euro 2024, perhaps of his career too. His teammates and support staff, young and old, came over to console him, but the tears wouldn’t stop flowing.

“Even the strongest people have their (bad) days. I was at rock bottom when the team needed me the most,” Ronaldo would say later, eyes moist but awash with relief after the win. “Sadness at the start is joy at the end. That’s what football is. Moments, inexplicable moments. I feel sad and happy at the same time.”

That sinking feeling

There’s only one explanation for that meltdown – it was the culmination of a night where everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Ronaldo. His teammates kept finding him inside the box, but he was owned in the air by centre-back Vanja Drkusic. In Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes, Portugal have two quality free-kick takers. But the skipper kept grabbing the ball, kept missing the mark. In fact, he hasn’t converted any of his 33 direct free-kicks taken across a record six Euro appearances. Overall, he’s scored from just one of the 60 free-kicks he’s taken at major international competitions.

Then, in the 89th minute, Diogo Jota stole the ball at the half-line and created the clearest chance from open play that Portugal had throughout the contest. Ronaldo was clear on goal and had the sort of opportunity he would bury routinely. But all the ageing maestro managed was a tame left-footed shot straight to Oblak.

Be it in the air, or from free-kicks, or in open play – it was a nightmarish outing for Ronaldo. And each time he squandered an opportunity, he would look at the heavens and scream, as if feeling cheated that things weren’t going his way. Desperation to achieve success can lead to great things, as India’s T20 World Cup-winning captain Rohit Sharma would testify, but this felt like something else. It was as if Ronaldo was dealing with the harsh realisation that things which came easily to him for years were a distant dream now.

In the end, it all worked out for Ronaldo and Portugal. He showed character to convert the first penalty for his side in the shootout, folding his hands in apology to the Portuguese fans packed behind the goal. Although Costa notched up a dream sequence with the gloves, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will know better than anyone else that there is a dire need for change.

“It is, without doubt, my last European Championship,” he told Portuguese public broadcaster RTP. “But I’m not emotional about that. I’m moved by all that football means – by the enthusiasm I have for the game, the enthusiasm for seeing my supporters, my family, the affection people have for me. My main motivation now is to make people happy. It’s not about leaving the world of football. What else is there for me to do or win? It’s not going to come down to one point more or one point less.”

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