Madrid, Spain: At Euro 2016, aged 31, Cristiano Ronaldo stands before one of his last chances to lead Portugal to a title and star in a major tournament at the national-team level.
"At any rate, we will have a super-motivated Cristiano. He is decisive, it's incredible how many goals he scores considering that he is not a centre-forward," Portugal manager Fernando Santos recently praised him.
The Real Madrid striker ended his first tournament with Portugal, Euro 2004, in tears. That was the closest Cristiano Ronaldo has ever got to lifting a trophy with the national team, and it became his worst memory.
Portugal will not have many chances like the one they let slip away 12 years ago at the Euro. The hosts, coached by Brazilian manager Luiz Felipe Scolari at the time, reached the final and may have kicked off their party a bit too early. The fact that they were playing the lowly Greece added to the locals' optimism and, by the time Portugal started to take the occasion seriously, it was too late.
The whole country wept over the 1-0 defeat in that final. And it was a tough blow for Ronaldo, 19 at the time, who never had a similar chance again with the national team.
Over the years, the striker became increasingly important for Portugal, as he grew into the global superstar he has been for many years.
However, in a development that was inversely proportional to his personal rise as a player, Cristiano Ronaldo had to live with the feeling of failure whenever he took part in major tournaments with Portugal.
A national team can never be a one-man band, not even if that man is Cristiano Ronaldo. After Euro 2004, Portugal gradually lost brilliant players like Rui Costa, Luis Figo and Deco, and they never found stability as they tried different managers.
Now, they approach the Euro with the confidence that stems from a comfortable qualifying round. They won seven games and lost only one, admittedly in a group where the lowly Albania came second.
Ronaldo was Portugal's top scorer in qualifying and netted five of their 11 goals in eight matches, and his compatriots hope he will be fit for the Euro. Two years ago, he got to the World Cup in Brazil after a string of fitness issues towards the end of a season in which he played many games.
"I was not fit, perhaps I should not have gone at all," the striker himself admitted later, after Portugal were eliminated in the group round, behind Germany and the United States.
Now Cristiano Ronaldo has again had muscle trouble at the end of the season with Real Madrid.
It has been a strange year for the forward. He was booed by some Real Madrid fans in January, but he managed to win them back as he led the team with excellent performances later in the year.
In the Champions League quarter-finals against Wolfsburg on 12 April, Ronaldo played fantastic football to command Real Madrid's 3-0 win and score a spectacular hat-trick. He scored goals of every sort: from close range, with a header and from a free kick. That was the Cristiano Ronaldo that Portuguese football fans dream of seeing in France.
It is likely that the experience of 2014 will allow him to pay more attention to what he needs to do to recover for the Euro. He will not have many more chances.
Ronaldo will probably get to play the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but he will be 33 by then, possibly in decline. In fact, during April, there was a rumour that he might retire from the national team after France 2016.
Whether or not that is true, the upcoming Euro, without clear favourites and with him long established as the continent's greatest star, can be Cristiano Ronaldo's last chance to shine with Portugal.
First Published On : Jun 8, 2016 19:12 IST