THE SIX EUROS VERSIONS OF CRISTIANO RONALDO: FROM YOUNG SENSATION TO NO LONGER CENTRE OF ATTENTION

Cristiano Ronaldo will begin his record sixth – and most likely final – European Championship when Portugal take on the Czech Republic in their Group F opener.

Here Telegraph Sport charts his illustrious Euros career to date and each phase of his career.

Euro 2004: Emergence of a sensation

6 appearances, 2 goals, 2 assists

Cristiano Ronaldo’s inaugural European Championship was a Shakespearean tragedy befitting the introduction of one of the world’s most dramatic footballers.

Having shown flashes of brilliance in his debut season with Manchester United, a major tournament held in his home nation gave Ronaldo the opportunity to hammer home his quality against Europe’s footballing elite.

Ronaldo predictably marked his major tournament debut with a goal in the 90th minute, despite appearing as one of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s half-time changes in Portugal’s opener against Greece.

Portugal would go on to win every game until the final, including an 8-7 penalty showdown against England in which Ronaldo fired home. They became the first host nation to reach the European Championship Final since 1984, but heartbreak was around the corner.

The 150/1 outsiders Greece held out Europe’s greatest stars and pulled off a shock victory after a 24-year absence from the competition.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo had arrived.

Euro 2008: Ronaldo hits his prime

3 appearances, 1 goal, 3 assists

Expectations could not have been higher for Ronaldo in 2008. He came into the tournament as the PFA Player of the Year, Premier League Golden Boot winner – with 31 goals in 34 Premier League appearances – and as a Champions League and Premier League winner. His first Ballon d’Or followed.

Portugal’s team was arguably even better than in previous years despite deep runs at both the 2006 World Cup and 2004 Euros. But all the attention fell on the world’s greatest player, who would surely lead his country to glory...

Ronaldo started Portugal’s first two group games against Turkey and Czech Republic, providing a goal and two assists in the latter. Those two comfortable victories allowed the entire starting 11 to rest in their final match against Switzerland.

A tough draw against Germany spelled the end to Portugal and Ronaldo’s campaign before it had really got going, however. Despite an electric performance in which Ronaldo created Portugal’s first goal, and came close to scoring himself on several occasions, Joachim Lowe’s team willed their way past Portugal and into the semi-finals.

Is he really the best? Can he only win for club and not for country? Is he a luxury player? Questions about Ronaldo were raised and criticism was widespread. Disappointment marred what was an otherwise legendary season.

Euro 2012: Commander-in-chief

5 appearances, 3 goals*, no assists

*joint top goalscorer

Assuming the role of Portugal captain in the wake of the disappointment in 2008, Ronaldo became the team’s leader as well as best player.

Ronaldo completed his widely anticipated switch to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 and Portugal had fallen short in the 2010 World Cup, losing out to Iberian neighbours and eventual champions Spain in the last-16.

Coming into Euro 2012, there was no doubt about Cristiano’s talent. His individual accolades were numerous and eye-watering, but could he lead a team all the way? Could he put his nation on his back and drag them over the line?

After a 1-0 loss to Germany, Portugal won their final two group games against Denmark and the Netherlands, with an impressive brace from Ronaldo securing their qualification in the latter. A thundering header past Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech later and Portugal were into the semi-finals.

But Portugal came up short once again. Portugal’s relentless neighbours inched past them once more, this time on penalties. Ronaldo did not take a penalty with the decision to wait for the fifth, and often decisive, penalty backfiring as Portugal had lost before he got a chance to step up.

Another disappointment. Ronaldo had taken the armband, been Portugal’s best player, scored important goals, and yet had nothing to show for it. Would this be the story of his international career?

Euro 2016: Winner

7 appearances, 3 goals, 3 assists

When Ronaldo finally decides to hang up his boots, he will be remembered for his goals, his celebrations, his demeanour… and also for being a winner.

The disappointment at Euro 2012 lit a fire in Ronaldo and a run of four Ballon d’Ors in five years and two Champions League trophies followed.

Nevertheless, this coincided with a down period for the Portuguese national team. Failure to qualify from a fairly straightforward group at the 2014 World Cup was a disaster.

They followed this up with three consecutive draws at the start of Euro 2016, unable to record a single win in a group that featured Iceland, Hungary, and Austria.

Portugal scraped into the last 16 as the third-ranked, third-placed team thanks to Ronaldo’s brace against Hungary saw them just over the line, but hopes of winning a first major trophy seemed delusional.

In both the round of 16 and quarter-finals, the score at the end of 90 minutes remained level for Portugal, with a 117th minute winner by Ricardo Quaresma, courtesy of a Ronaldo assist, and a penalty shoot-out the deciding factors in their route past Croatia and Poland.

Somehow Portugal were in the semi-finals despite spending just six minutes leading in the tournament thus far.

Finally, a confident 2-0 win against Wales, in which Ronaldo scored and featured heavily, saw Portugal into the final.

Only the hosts, and favourites, France remained. And disaster struck early. A rash, and possibly targeted, foul from West Ham’s Dimitri Payet left Ronaldo hobbling and eventually substituted in the 25th minute. Surely that was that.

Eder, a late substitute, fired home from 25 yards securing Portugal their first major trophy with Ronaldo frantically coaching from the touchline.

In an unusual manner, Ronaldo was now a European champion in every sense of the word.

Euro 2020: Beginning of the end

4 appearances, 5 goals*, 1 assist,

*top goalscorer

Leaving behind the ghostly stadiums, the delayed Euro 2020 competition – held in 2021 – was one of individual success for Ronaldo and team disappointment.

Immediately following the success of Euro 2016, Ronaldo won his final Ballon d’Or in 2017, as well as two more Champions Leagues and a La Liga title before the next Euros. After a narrow 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup, in which Ronaldo again failed to score in the knockout stages, he made the blockbuster move to sign with Juventus in Italy.

Despite criticism, they won Serie A twice and the Coppa Italia, setting Ronaldo up for his record breaking fifth European Championship. No player had played in more. An aura of finality followed Portugal’s camp.

Drawn into the tournament’s “Group of Death”, Portugal had to contend with France and Germany for qualification to the knockout stages. In prolific fashion, Ronaldo scored twice in a 3-0 victory over Hungary, once in a 4-2 loss to Germany, and twice again in a 2-2 draw with France, qualifying Portugal as the highest-ranked third-placed finishers.

A star-studded Belgium team awaited them in the last 16, and they proved too defensively solid.

After crashing out of the tournament early, and with questions swirling around his future in Italy, many saw this as the beginning of the end for one of football’s all-time greats. How much longer could he realistically go?

Euro 2024: No longer the centre of attention

Ronaldo’s total Euro stats:

25 appearances*, 13 goals, 9 assists,

1 Golden Boot, 1 winner’s medal.

*record number of appearances and 12 is record number of wins

For the first time in his career, Ronaldo is not the main event. Jude Bellingham-David Beckham parallels spurred on by underwear modelling campaigns and Adidas advertising magic have sent Bellingham stratospheric. French phenom Kylian Mbappe is a global superstar, now delving into the treacherous waters of political commentary. People do not really seem to be talking about Ronaldo.

Newly-appointed Portugal head coach Roberto Martínez made a point of visiting Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia upon his appointment, seeking clarification as to whether he was up for another stab at 39-years-old. Martinez was met with an emphatic affirmation.

After former head coach Fernando Santos deemed team cohesion more important than big-name-firepower, Ronaldo was relegated to the bench for Portugal’s short foray into the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup. Many would see this as an indication that father time had finally laid his grasp on the seemingly evergreen super-athlete.

Questions surrounding his willingness to come off the bench, with his starting position up for debate. have been met with exceedingly professional confirmations; “I will be ready as always to help our country and respect the coach’s decisions.”

An electric qualification campaign, in which he scored 10 goals in nine appearances, and Portugal won every game demonstrates he is not done just yet.

Ronaldo could yet well start, but there will be obvious indications of his age. He will not lead a high and intensive press – did he ever really anyway? He will not be as agile or quick of the mark. But he does not need to be. With the impressive depth of creativity in the Portugal squad, this tournament will be all about scoring goals for Ronaldo. And he knows how better than anyone.

This may be his last hurrah in international football, but do not for a second believe Ronaldo will go out without making as much noise as possible.

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2024-06-18T08:05:07Z dg43tfdfdgfd