How Ronaldo Rewrote Portugal History!
Cristiano Ronaldo is a serial winner. He has proven it in England, he has proven it in Spain, he is proving it in Italy and, on Sunday, he underlined it with Portugal once again. The A Selecao captain guided his nation to only their second trophy in their 98-year-long footballing history. Portugal played their first competitive international fixture back in December 1921, losing 3-1 to rivals Spain. Ninety-eight years later, Spain’s football bosses must be getting annoyed by their noisy neighbours who are stealing the limelight thanks to a certain Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. Let me tell you a bit more about the man, who has once again rewritten history!
The 34-year-old made his debut on 20 August 2003 at the tender age of 18 years and a few months against Kazachstan. Just a year later, he wrote headlines at the world stage during the 2004 UEFA European Championship on home soil. But his dream of lifting an international title turned into a nightmare in the final as underdogs Greece beat the hosts 1-0. Portugal’s 83-year-long wait to finally win an international trophy continued as even then, then teenage sensation Cristiano Ronaldo, who was later voted into the Team of the Tournament, was not able to break the Greece team’s resilient defence. But Ronaldo did not let this bitter disappointment stop him from greatness. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Portugal reached the semi-final for the first time in 40 years. Even though they did not make the final, many could sense that 40 years after the great Eusebio had become a Portugal legend, there was another legend in the making. Eusebio, who was born in Portuguese Mozambique, had scored nine goals at the 1966 World Cup to help Portugal finish in third spot. Yet, even the great Eusebio was not able to lift a trophy with the national team.
Between 2008 and 2014 it looked like Ronaldo’s Portugal would face a similar fate, as he had to watch Spain’s Golden Generation claim back-to-back Euro titles with a World Cup triumph in between, before Germany became the first European nation to win a World Cup in South America. In those years, Ronaldo and Co were twice eliminated by Spain and once by Germany – arguably the two greatest teams of the last decade. The trend, though, was there for all to see and, in 2016, Ronaldo and his team finally ended their trophy wait. Ronaldo had turned into a global superstar and won three Ballon d’Ors, making many believe he would be one of the standout players at the 2016 Euro. Even though he netted three goals, something else outshone his scoring exploits as it seemed he was determined to put team success over individual glamour. His incredible leadership mentality came to show when he convinced Joao Moutinho to take a spot-kick in the quarter-final penalty shootout against Poland. Moutinho seemed to have somewhat developed question marks on whether he should be taking a penalty, but Ronaldo was seen encouraging him, saying, “You hit them well! If we lose, f*ck it. Be strong! Come on, be strong! It’s in God’s hands now!” Moutinho scored his penalty – as did the other four Portugal takers including Ronaldo, who had uncharacteristically taken the first instead of last penalty to give his country the upper hand. In the final, Ronaldo had to be substituted after picking up an injury in the 25th minute of the game.
The team’s superstar, the big leader in the squad, the one who had written the headlines and let others flourish in his shadow, had to leave the pitch. It could have decided the game for France, but even from the sidelines Ronaldo was not ready to give up. He gave his shocked teammates what has since been described as an “unbelievable” half-time speech, telling them he was “sure” they would beat France. The game was still deadlocked in extra-time when Ronaldo was pacing up and down the sidelines to shout instructions in the best coaching manner to his peers. Portugal won the game thanks to Eder’s 109th minute winner and the striker later also revealed how Ronaldo had given him strength: “He told me I would score the winning goal for the team.” At the final whistle, Ronaldo and Portugal had finally won their first international trophy.
Fast forward three years later, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner captained Portugal to another international trophy. Yes, he missed all the group stage games after taking a sabbatical following the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but he once again stepped up when his country needed him. Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in the semi-final against Switzerland to book his country the third final in history – with all three coming during Ronaldo’s reign. Even though he was not able to leave his mark on the final, a goal by Goncalo Guedes ensured that Ronaldo and Portugal now have two international cups in their trophy cabinets. His greatness comes to show when realising that Portugal did not win any tournament in 82 years before Ronaldo made his debut and now two in 16 years of his international career. In fact, before Ronaldo, Portugal had never reached an international final; with him, they have reached three and lifted the trophy twice.
As if that was not enough, he also became the first player in history to lift 10 European titles, namely five UEFA Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups, the Euro 2016 and the UEFA Nations League. His recent final record speaks volumes of his winning gene as he has won the last 12 finals he has contested to take his personal trophy count to 31 for club and country. In addition, Ronaldo is also the leading active international goalscorer worldwide, having netted 88 times for his country. No other player in European history has scored more than the Portuguese after he broke Ferenc Puskas’ European record of 84 goals during the 2018 World Cup. Worldwide, only Ali Daei has scored more goals than the Portugal legend after finding the back of the net on 109 occasions for his country. Ronaldo needs another 21 goals to crack this record, too, and who would bet against a serial winner like the current Portugal captain?
Definitely not me…