Cristiano Ronaldo is carrying the burden of his nation’s hopes as the national side struggles to survive at Euro 2012.
The 2008 world footballer of the year has scored for Real Madrid almost at will, with a record of almost a goal a game since he moved to Spain in 2009 from Manchester United.
But Ronaldo was shut out by Germany in their 1-0 opening group B defeat in Lviv and Portugal return to the Ukrainian venue for a crunch match with Denmark on Wednesday having only scored once in their last four matches, through Manchester United winger Nani.
In what is already a fifth major tournament for Ronaldo, it seems the world’s most expensive player cannot meet the almost impossible expectations on him as Portugal seeks a first major title.
Ronaldo had a disappointing game against Germany on Saturday when he could not find a way past Jerome Boateng.
Portugal’s former world player Luis Figo says it is not entirely Ronaldo’s fault that he is not turning in match-winning displays.
“I think the team need to give him the chances to have a good performance,” he said in Lisbon.
“Cristiano’s style is to finish, to score, so if the team don’t produce those kind of opportunities then of course his performance is down.”
Figo, who won a record 127 caps for Portugal, scoring 32 goals, helped the national team reach the Euro 2004 final when Ronaldo was the youngest player in the team.
Ronaldo scored two goals in Portugal’s progress to the final and was chosen in the team of the tournament. At Euro 2008 he managed one goal as Portugal were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Portugal with Ronaldo reached the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup but the player failed to make much of an impact in 2010 in South Africa when his only goal came in Portugal’s 7-0 group stage thrashing of North Korea.
He has gone into Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine with high hopes, but cut a frustrated figure after the defeat to Germany. A defeat against Denmark will almost certainly end their chances of progressing.
“We can still reach the quarter-finals,” he said. “In Euro 2004 we lost the opening game and reached the final. We must remember that.”
Ronaldo’s needs a good Euro 2012 to cement his place as one of the world’s best. Real Madrid were convinced of that when they paid United a record fee of 93 million euros (131 million dollars) for the player, who earns some 13 million euros per year.
The boy from Funchal, capital of Madeira, has already won titles in Portugal, England and Spain, along with a Champions League and a Club World Cup. However, now at 27 and captain, he still finds himself fighting the stigma of being always second best.
Ronaldo scored 46 goals in La Liga this season, but was beaten by Barcelona’s Messi with 50. The little Argentinian has also beaten Ronaldo over the last three years to the world player title.
Despite his brilliance and the adulation of fans, despite his 32 goals for the national side at almost one in three games, the striker’s sunny boy image does not endear him to everybody in Portugal, particularly with some of the media. The daily Publico recently wrote scathingly that the was more worried about his hairstyle than about winning matches.
It seems that Ronaldo still has something to prove, and Portugal will need him to deliver against the Danes.
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