Ronaldo has chance to grab Euros by scruff of the neck

Not unsurprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo absolutely dominated the build-up to tonight’s first Euro 2012 quarter-final between Portugal and the Czech Republic.

In both pre-game press conferences at the National Stadium in Warsaw yesterday, the first question was about him; the last question was about him.

The real question though, is whether he can finally dominate the stage.

Ronaldo, after all, has had quite a curious international career. It has, ironically, been completely out of synch with his club career. His best tournaments came in 2004 and 2006 when he was at his most erratic for Manchester United. His worst have come since he rose to become one of the club game’s most commanding players.

Consider this stat: since the start of the 2007-08 season, Ronaldo has scored 214 goals in 246 club games. In the same period, he has only managed 21 in 51 for Portugal. Since that’s a drop of 0.87 goals a game to 0.41, it’s rather significant.

What’s more, before Sunday’s game against the Netherlands, only two of those goals had come in international tournaments — with one of them the sixth in a 7-0 win over North Korea.

That, however, is also what makes his performance against the Dutch so interesting. When you put it in its proper context, it was actually the first tournament match he’s truly dominated and decided. Even more importantly, it was the group’s key game and one in which his team found themselves behind. Talk about a rescue act.

Of course, as much as Ronaldo looked like a man determined to prove a point in that match, it must also be conceded that he benefited from the Netherlands’ ludicrously open back line and the fact they played much of the game without one proper full-back as they chased the result they needed.

But, to be fair to him, it’s usually formation changes at international level that negatively affect him — and from his own team. One of the grand issues of Ronaldo’s career is that, arguably more than any other player of his exceptional level, he requires an entire system to be built around him. As Czech coach Michal Bilek said yesterday: “If Ronaldo runs, it’s impossible to stop him.”

The offset of that though, is if he isn’t in a formation that completely funnels the play to maximise his pace, he’s much less effective.

As their own manager, Paolo Bento, said somewhat abrasively yesterday: “Our strategy is independent from the players that are on the pitch... I don’t just ‘let him play’. Of course, there are instructions for him. Of course, he has a lot of talent. I will give him the best information and instructions to help him cope with his task.”

At the least though, Ronaldo is going to force something of a formation change in the Czechs.

“We have that in mind,” Bilek said. “We will adjust our tactic to be more defensive... We have to close the defence and not give him any space.”

Unlike the Dutch game.

And, also unlike the Dutch game, Ronaldo is probably going to have to pair off against one of the revelations of Euro 2012: Czech right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie.

Overcome that and we can really start talking about him dominating this tournament.

It may mark a watershed. It may well see Portugal go a long way.

It may, also, finally see Ronaldo reclaim the Ballon D’Or he so craves.

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