The 36-year-old broke multiple records in this European Championship but has to be content with a last-16 exit in what could potentially be his final Euros.
Euro 2020 promised to be much more than it turned out to be for Portugal and their skipper Cristiano Ronaldo. From a personal standpoint, the 36-year-old forward had a phenomenal campaign, breaking numerous records along the way. The early exit, on the other hand, will be seen as a disappointment by the team. Euro 2020 appeared to be the tournament where the defending champions could make a statement. Despite being placed in the “Group of Death”, several pundits predicted that Portugal would defend their title. However, this was not the case. The 0-1 defeat to Belgium means Fernando Santos’ team must be content with a last-16 exit in what could be Ronaldo’s final Euros.
For the first time in their history, Portugal entered the European Championship as a defending champion. All eyes were on one player – their talismanic striker Ronaldo. The Juventus forward entered Euro 2020 with the possibility of matching or breaking multiple records. It did not take him long to find his footing. Ronaldo, who became the first player to feature in five European Championships, needed only 90 minutes to break a plethora of records. With two late goals against Hungary, the Portugal skipper became the all-time leading scorer in the competition.
The two goals took the Juventus striker’s count to 11, leapfrogging Michel Platini’s tally of nine strikes for France. He went on to add three more goals in the competition. Besides, Ronaldo’s double against France helped him equal former Iran striker Ali Daei’s tally of 109 international goals. With form on his side, the Portuguese superstar was expected to break the record in the knockout phase. However, the country’s elimination from the competition means Ronaldo has to wait a little longer to achieve that feat.
In Euro 2016, Ronaldo endured a slow start, taking time to find his footing in the competition. Fast forward five years and the former Manchester United winger was quick off the mark. Hungary did make Portugal work for their money in the opening clash, with Ronaldo missing a sitter in the first half. The patience shown by the defending champions was rewarded in the end with a flurry of late goals.
After Raphael Guerreiro opened the scoring six minutes from time, the groundwork was laid for Ronaldo to steal the show. Three minutes from time, Ronaldo overtook Platini’s long-standing record goals tally of nine with a well-taken penalty. In stoppage-time, Ronaldo would score his second of the evening.
The former Real Madrid striker carried that form into the second match, scoring the opener against Germany and in some style. The finish might be a tap-in, but the overall build-up play and Ronaldo’s part in that blistering counter-attack was a treat to the eyes. The 36-year-old cleared the corner kick in his own penalty box which was then picked up by Bernardo Silva. The Manchester City attacker dashed up the pitch with the ball and sent a precise long ball to Diogo Jota on the left flank.
The Liverpool player beautifully took the ball under control and squared it for Ronaldo, who sprinted all the way from the other end of the pitch to tap it in an empty net. During his breathtaking 92-meter run, the 36-year-old defied age to hit a top speed of 32 km per hour. The entire process took him just 14.2 seconds as the German players and fans were left stunned in the stadium. Germany, however, regrouped and scored four goals later before Ronaldo set up Jota to reduce the deficit in the end.
In desperate need of a result in the final group match against the World Champions France, the 36-year-old stepped up again. It was a battle between a former (Ronaldo) and present Real Madrid forward (Karim Benzema). Both came out on top, scoring two each for their respective countries. Ronaldo scored the first and last goal of the match with two well-struck penalties.
He just about helped Portugal qualify for the knock-out stages, finishing as one of the four best third-placed teams. It set up a mouth-watering last-16 clash against the World No.1 Belgium. The Portuguese team were unlucky to lose the match despite dominating the majority of the proceedings. Their skipper was kept quiet for most of the night by the experienced Belgian defence.
Still, Ronaldo tried his best to work his magic, most notably setting up Jota a chance in the penalty box, which he lifted over the bar from close range under pressure. The final whistle meant that Portugal will not be able to defend their crown. At 36 years, this could very well be their skipper’s last European championship.
However, based on his career thus far, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has not slowed down with age. With many players retiring in their mid-30s, Ronaldo appears to be improving with age. If he maintains his excellent form and fitness levels, he may be able to play some part in Euro 2024. On the other hand, if the current tournament turns out to be Ronaldo’s final European competition, he would have hoped for a different ending, and he might have deserved it as well!