It’s not often that football fans the world over feel sympathy for Cristiano Ronaldo, but when the Portugal captain went down injured early in the Euro 2016 final, with tears streaming down his face and a now-infamous moth unceremoniously settling near his eye, that is exactly what happened.
That moment epitomised Ronaldo. His will to win is unparalleled and his emotions simply got the better of him. The thought of missing out on becoming the first Portugal captain to lift an international trophy was too much, but luckily for him, his teammates did enough to beat hosts France 1-0 and cement Ronaldo’s place in history.
Ignoring the tedious and trivial Messi versus Ronaldo argument, you would be pretty safe in saying that the latter is now almost definitely the greatest European player ever. The 31-year-old has been at the top of the game for 10 years and has consistently scored vast amounts of goals season upon season, winning everything there is to win along the way, from League titles to domestic cups and, of course, Champions Leagues. Equalling Michel Platini’s record of most Euro goals was an achievement that showcased his longevity, with those goals spread across four tournaments.
This European Championship victory is the icing on the cake of an already illustrious-career, and although he did not play for the majority of the final, neither was his impact always felt in games along the way, his influence in the triumph cannot be underestimated. Three goals and three assists is by no means a bad return, but if Ronaldo had not missed his penalty against Austria in the group stages and converted some of the glorious chances presented to him, that figure could have been greater.
One thing that must be mentioned, though, is the new dimension to Ronaldo that we have seen in France this summer. His leadership qualities have come to the fore and he was an inspiration to his teammates throughout. Yes, he acted petulantly early in the tournament, with snide comments on Iceland and a microphone being lobbed into a lake, but the way which the Madeiran led his compatriots in the knockout stages was outstanding. Take the geeing-up of Joao Moutinho and the rest of team before the penalty shootout against Poland in the quarter-finals, plus the Sir Alex Ferguson-esque antics on the touchline on Sunday night before the final whistle.
Ronaldo has certainly stepped up when his country needed him to be the leader that he never really looked like being, and he is now reaping the rewards.
“I’m very happy. We made history. It was something we’d been looking for since 2004,” he said after the game. “I asked God to give me a chance because we deserved it. I always believed we had what it took and in the strategy of our Coach to win. It’s one of the happiest moments of my career. I have to thank everyone, my teammates, the Coach and Portuguese [fans]. It’s an unforgettable moment.”
As a nation who produces so many wonderfully-talented footballers and is so passionate for the game, Portugal deserved their triumph in Paris on Sunday, and so too did Ronaldo, who will now leave an even-greater legacy on the sport that he has dominated.