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Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo still has room to build all-time great legacy at Juventus’ expense

For the first time in over a decade, Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t the main topic of discussion of a major cup final featuring the Portuguese star. With Real Madrid on the verge of being the first club to retain the Champions League, the Portuguese forward has occasionally floated amongst the peripheral this season.

Nevertheless, the trials and tribulations of eight years in Madrid may result in Ronaldo’s greatest achievement since moving to the Spanish capital. A La Liga/Champions League double at the expense of city rivals Atletico, and Lionel Messi’s Barcelona would validate their dominance as world football’s alpha club. All this in the latter stages of the 32-year-old’s career.

A career that was supposed to be on the decline continues to enjoy the success that many could only dream of. Ronaldo equally remains one of the key components to Zinedine Zidane’s outfit, as the transition from high-flying roaming left-sided forward to a clinical forward has been seamless.

“Obviously what I want the most is to play more freely up front,” Ronaldo said. “That is the opportunity Zinedine Zidane has been giving me as a No. 9. I play freely. I play on the wing, down the middle. I play whenever I think I should.”

From a silverware perspective, the last 12 months have been the greatest Ronaldo’s ever experienced. Yet, oddly enough, the final in Cardiff means more. Not solely to build on Real’s trophy haul, or representing the focal point in another Champions League milestone. For once, this is about Ronaldo.

No mentions of Lionel Messi. No distraction of a summer move from Old Trafford to the Santiago Bernabeu. With guidance from Zidane, Ronaldo has been working hard for this moment. A chance to produce a display that will be cemented in football history for years to come.

Perhaps that’s one of the few, if not, sole criticism left in the anti-Ronaldo arsenal. Although it can be deemed extremely harsh, very few can argue that greatest players of our generation delivered genuine world-class final’s moment. Whether it be Lionel Messi’s 2011 Champions League final master-class, Xavi’s metronomic control in both the 2009 Champions League Final and 2008 European Final or Ronaldo’s goals in the 2002 World Cup final, the small group of players that dazzled over the past 20-years have shifted the game in some manner.

At the conclusion of his career, Cristiano will be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned greats, but what sets him apart is the lack of a truly defining moment. The infamous Copa del Rey winner in 2011 along with the goal that practically clinched La Liga in 2012 were magnificent moments in Real history, but on the biggest stage, Ronaldo hasn’t been able to provide the extra bit of quality we’ve grown accustomed to.

This is not to say that Ronaldo “doesn’t show up for the big games.” Frankly, the 32-year-old’s ability to score goals is unparalleled and he epitomizes the ultimate modern day “big game” star, but even when you examine his performances in recent title triumphs, the Portuguese forward has been fairly underwhelming.

During the earlier stages of Ronaldo’s prime at Manchester United resulted in the opening goal in Moscow, yet he was subsequently denied by Petr Cech in the shootout. The following year, Ronaldo was merely a bystander in a fairly one-sided defeat to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

Oddly, Ronaldo’s significance decreased in Real’s success over Atletico. However, the 32-year-old still managed to score a penalty in both finals – with last year’s goal securing Real’s second Champions League title in three years. Even in last summer’s European Championship, Portugal defeated host nation France following the captain’s first half departure due to injury.

Frankly, much of Ronaldo’s inability to showcase his optimum talent on the biggest stage has been associated with fatigue. This year, however, Zidane’s altered his talisman’s training regimen and opted to rest the Portuguese international in pivotal domestic games against inferior opposition.

“He knows himself that sometimes he has to not play,” Zidane said following Real’s first leg semi-final victory over Atletico. “It’s not just this year; it’s an accumulation over the years. He knows that himself because he is intelligent.”

In return, Ronaldo discovered the best form of his career post-May since the turn of the decade, which has witnessed the forward single-handily guide Madrid to the final in Cardiff.

He arguably eliminated two favourites en route to the final with hat-tricks against Atletico and Bayern Munich, scoring 8 goals over both legs. Likewise, Ronaldo scored six goals in Real’s final four league games to edge out Barca in the final week of the La Liga season.

Though, far from tactically competent, and still lacking balance in certain areas, Zidane’s Real compliments Ronaldo’s transition into a conventional forward. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are two of the finest ball-playing midfielders in world football, whilst Marcelo and Dani Carvajal offer crossing from advanced full-back positions.

If Zidane prefers width, Karim Benzema can operate in the channels, whereas Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez have offered pace and defensive discipline from wide areas. Then, there’s Isco who has helped Real overload central areas but also provides the guile Madrid can lack if Kroos and Modric aren’t floating around the penalty area.

Where Mourinho’s counter-attacking Madrid benefitted Ronaldo’s pace, power, and trickery during his prime, Zidane’s version – stemming from Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival that led to a proactive outlook of the game – provides ample service for the reliable Portuguese goal-scorer. Under Mourinho, Ronaldo was the ultimate counter-attacking player, but his evolution along with the Real methodology alteration under Ancelotti and Zidane suggests he’s now the ultimate forward.

In truth, although Ronaldo continues to maintain an unprecedented level of excellence at 32, the decline many have harped about could limit what would be an advantage for the newly-crowned Spanish champions. On paper, Ronaldo charging into space behind Dani Alves and running at Andrea Barzagli appears to be an area that would concern Juventus in previous seasons.

But this version of Ronaldo may prefer to exploit the Juventus defence with his athletic and aerial superiority. Apart from a few moments of brilliance from Lionel Messi, Massimiliano Allegri’s Juve have been susceptible defending crosses from wide areas – a route to goal Ronaldo utilized to dispatch Bayern and Atletico – and will encounter difficulties preventing the 32-year-old from scoring.

It’s been nearly 10 years since Ronaldo’s first Champions League triumph, and despite the various heartfelt narratives surrounding the final, football’s biggest stage is still about him. At 32, he remains the best, and most dangerous player on the pitch, capable of deciding a match within seconds.

History beckons in Cardiff, but with nothing else to prove to the cynics, the possibility of being the first team to retain the Champions League in this era presents Ronaldo with another opportunity to enhance his football immortality with one memorable performance against Juventus.

 
 

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Portugal 2-1 Holland

Match in a sentence

The world’s second best player Cristiano Ronaldo came to life tonight silencing his critics as his two goals have put Portugal into the quarter finals were they await the Czech Republic.

Observations

  • It was simple both teams needed a win to have any chance of coming out of this group of death. Portugal’s line up was unchanged from the previous two group games that seen them lose to Germany and beat Denmark.
  • Meanwhile, the Dutch who needed to win by two goals started with their usual 4-2-3-1 where we saw Rafael Van der Vaart replace Mark Van Bommel, Klass Jan Huntelaar replace Ibrahim Affelay and Ron Vlaar replace John Heitinga. Huntelaar played up top and Robin Van Persie played behind him pushing Wesley Sneijder to the left flank.
  • The first 15 minutes were quite cagey but the Dutch were in firm control.It looked as if the Portuguese were going to approach this game the same way they did against Germany,because when Holland had possession there was always eight or nine men behind the ball.
  • It only took 11 minutes for the game to come to life as Rafael Van der Vaart who was surprisingly the Dutch captain, cut in onto his left foot and hit venomous strike past Rui Patricio and into the goal.
  • The goal was spectacular but Van Persie and Huntelaar’s movement dragged two Portuguese defenders out of position and freed up space for Van der Vaart to score such a fine goal. Cristiano Ronaldo was also to play villain on this goal, as just like the second Danish goal, his inability to drop back and defend allowed the Dutch to overload Fabio Coentrao.
  • Albeit a couple of minutes of end to end attacks filled with last ditch tackles, the Portuguese like they did against the Germans responded well. They were able to grab the game by the throat and create chance after chance after chance. They were easily getting in behind this poor Dutch defence and we were just waiting for them to equalize.
  • In the 28th minute it finally came when 18 year old Jetro Willems gave up possession in his own half and the Dutch allowed the Portuguese to string a few neat passes together before the ball got to Joao Pereira who sent in a magnificent ball to Cristiano Ronaldo who timed his run to perfection and calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
  • Ronaldo was fantastic throughout the game, but was simply a man on a mission in the first half. He forced multiple saves from Maarten Stekelenburg, and provided many goal opportunities that his teammates couldn’t latch onto.
  • The second half began and Holland coach Bert Van Marjwik tinkered with the squad as he pushed Arjen Robben to the left, Wesley Sneijder behind Huntelaar and Robin Van Persie to the right. It didn’t work, and I must say Arjen Robben was absolutely dreadful not only today but throughout the entire tournament.
  • Since I’m touching on players, I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship for Pepe. Yet again was the Portuguese CB superb, as nothing got past him. At the same time his ignorant actions and his ability to be moronic at times is what ignites the hate. Nonetheless, he was magnificent yet again and a key component as to why Portugal are into the final eight.
  • In the 67th minute Van Marwijk gambled knowing he needed to win this game and he brought on Afellay to replace Willems. This left the Dutch with three at the back and no left fullback.
  • It took seven minutes for Portugal to make the Dutch pay as Van der Vaart conceded possession in his own half and the break was on. The Portuguese made no mistake as Nani found Ronaldo who cut right and struck it past Stekelenberg.
  • Van der Vaart who captained today’s side (after saying it was run by favourites day’s before) was the Dutch’s only goal scorer and he also hit the post. Today, many witnessed why Van Bommel was chosen over him in big games. Although he does provide that attacking spark, he leaves too much space in the midfield for Nigel De Jong to cover and the impressive trio of Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso simply dominated them today.
  • The Dutch were winless in their three games at Euro 2012, for many of them they will remember their last time in an orange jersey as a disgrace. They were simply lethargic and albeit the Denmark game, they deserved everything they received. Whether there were problems in the dressing room, this team was always poor in defence, but going forward they were abysmal. The likes of Robben, Van Persie, Van Bommel, Van der Wiel didn’t live up to their bill. The much maligned Wesley Sneijder to be fair had a decent tournament but without Stekelenburg they would’ve been blown out by both the Germans and the Portuguese. The real loser here is their coach Van Marwijk who tried everything in his power to get this team to click and in result will most likely get fired.
  • The Portuguese LIKE I PREDICTED, have finished second in the group of death and have made it to the knockout rounds of every major tournament since Euro 2004. They started off the game slow, but were brilliant on the night from the back to the front and will fancy their chances against the Czech Republic in their quarter-final tilt Thursday night. I believed this team would make it to the semi finals and they are one step closer to that achievement, where they can possibly meet Italy or Spain. They now have a few days to rest up before this tournament officially begins (not a fan of the group stage), and if they continue to play at this level it will be tough for any team to defeat them.

Three Stars

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo
  2. Pepe
  3. Joao Moutinho

 Honourable mention goes out to Maarten Stekelenburg, Miguel Veloso, Joao Pereira.

 Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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Portugal 3-2 Denmark

Game in a sentence

Drama, goals, and throw in the world’s 2nd best player missing an absolute sitter and yet that couldn’t even sum up what we’ve witnessed in this decisive encounter between the Danes and the Portuguese.

Observations

  • It has been a statement that has been used far too often in the past couple of days, but “this was the best game of the tournament thus far.” As each day goes by, it just gets better and better, and it leaves one to ask can it get better than this?
  • The scenario was set,Portugal lose they’re eliminated,Denmark win and they’re off to the quarters.
  • Both teams made no changes to the lineups that started in their first game. Prior to the game I tweeted “We are in for a treat folks. Postiga vs. Bendtner. Won’t find two strikers better than them. Impossible.” Many laughed at this tweet, as it was humourous, but to our surprises they scored three of the five goals in today’s game. Ave some of that!
  • In the first half, the game seemed quite like I predicted.Denmark organized and looking to hit on the break, and they started of the game well.Portugal also had a positive start but a goal from open play looked very unlikely.
  • In the 16th minute Danish fans around the world witnessed Zimling injure his already hurt toe and he was forced to leave the game. His injury proved to be vital as he added real steel into that midfield, and when he came off Denmark conceded too much space in the midfield which allowed Ronaldo, Moutinho and Veloso to penetrate through the middle.
  • Suddenly, Cristiano Ronaldo came to life in a game of two halves for the superstar. He was attacking with confidence, and although he’d prefer to receive the ball, his ability to receive the ball in deep areas and commence some of the Portuguese attacks was a treat. We’ll get more into his Jekyll & Hyde performance in a minute
  • Portugal’s goals came 12 minutes apart from each other and were both very similar. The first goal came off a corner taken by Joao Moutinho that Pepe timed to perfection and headed in at the near post. It seemed appropriate that it came from a set piece and was the 10th goal scored from header in this tournament.
  • The second goal was Helder Postiga’s 20th international goal for Portugal and it came from a low cross to the near post from the fantastic Nani that saw Postiga steer it in to the back of the net. Portugal seemed to be in firm control, but oh were we in for a surprise.
  • The self proclaimed Portugal slayer Niklas Bendtner struck just before half time, as the Portuguese midfield were deep in their 18 yard box and applied no pressure to Lars Jacobsen who was a constant threat throughout the game. Jacobsen crossed a wonderful ball to Michael Krohn-Dehli who headed it to Bendtner and Bendtner headed the ball into an open goal as the Portuguese defence had collapsed.
  • The second half saw Portugal pressing the Denmark defence, and forcing them into many misplaced passes and suicide balls. Although,Denmark had a bulk of the possession they failed to provide any real threat. Their inability to make that final decisive pass was hurting them as Portugal seemed comfortable in hitting on the break. As it got to the final hour, the Portuguese legs started to tire and slowly they were losing shape in the middle of the park and started to open up huge gaps in the midfield.
  • Nicklas Bendtner IMO was influential when Denmark was going forward. Poulsen had a battle with Nani all night and struggled to get into advanced positions. So if the attack didn’t come through the right side it came through Bendtner who did well to hold up the ball and spread several passes out wide to open up the game for his side. On top of that he was clinical and scored two massive goals when his side was down.
  • The talking point of the game will be Cristiano Ronaldo who in my opinion had a great first half, but in the second half after having his shot saved on a breakaway from the left side caused by a Denmark error Ronaldo a man who scored 60 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid was on a clear-cut break away and flashed his shot wide of the goal. It capped off an abysmal second half for the winger who believes he is the best player in the world.
  • Ronaldo will receive criticism for that, but that isn’t the sole reason why he was so poor in the second half. Ronaldo’s inability to track back and help Fabio Coentrao defend resulted in the Danes overloading that side, which saw Coentrao vulnerable in numerous 2v1’s. In result to his rued misses, the equalizing goal came from that side which one again saw Jacobsen cross in a quality ball that Bendtner nodded in. Bendtner now has six goals in his last five appearances against Portugal. May be he his world class? (just kidding)
  • It seemed certain that Portugal were going to lose two points today until we witnessed a moment of individual brilliance. Bento who I think made his substitutions too late introduced the world to Silvestre Varela. The Porto winger who might not be known to many was on for only six minutes when he scuffed a volley in the box. Varela was persistent and let the ball bounce before he struck it perfectly into the right corner. Varela saved Ronaldo ridicule from his country and his coach from a huge amount of pressure going into the final Group B game.
  • With Germany comfortably cruising past Holland this leaves Group B to be decided in the final round of fixtures.Portugal will face Holland who needs to beat them by two to have any chance of advancing.Denmark who might be without Zimling and Rommedahl will face a strong German side that only need a single point to top the group.Portuga lwill only need a point in the final game along with Denmark failing to beat Germany will be enough to see them through to the quarter finals.
  • Portugal deserved the win by the narrowed margins as they weren’t entirely convincing. As a whole they need to be better for the full 90 minutes. They sort of remind me of the Russians. They can be superb for a certain period of the game, but then go missing. Bento has a lot of work to do ahead of this crucial fixture, but for tonight his boys can take this W and hopefully build off it as they won an important match when they weren’t at their best.
  • My MOTM goes to the world class CB Pepe. He was immense throughout most of the game and he seems to be the real leader in that Portugal back line that keeps them compact. Pepe – The player every team would love to have, but he is also the player every team hates to play against. He’s a rock !

Three Stars

  1. Pepe
  2. Nicklas Bendtner
  3. Nani

 Honourable mention goes to Lars Jacobsen, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso. I thought they had great games as well.

 

Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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