Ronaldo's decision to wait didn't help Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo is the kind of player that can change a game with one moment of excellence, the kind of player every team wants to have when the game is on the line.
Until, maybe, when it comes down to a penalty shootout.
The Portugal captain was one of the best players at the year's European Championship. Some would argue he was THE best, while others wouldn't even deign to argue about something that so many believe to be pure fact.
But against Spain, on the big stage of the Euro 2012 semifinals, there was no shot from Ronaldo in the penalty shootout. No chance for the Real Madrid winger to lift his team to victory.
And not even a reason why.
After his team was eliminated at the Donbass Arena, Ronaldo said he told Portugal coach Paulo Bento he wanted to take the fifth kick. That's the same spot he was in back in 2006, when Portugal beat England in a shootout in the World Cup quarterfinals.
"He said to me, 'You want a kick?' And I said, 'Yes, in the fifth,'" Ronaldo said late Wednesday night, shortly after Portugal lost the match. "We missed two penalties so it's frustration."
Before the shootout, Ronaldo was improving with every match. He had scored three goals in his previous two games at Euro 2012, and had several chances to break the scoreless draw against Spain - including a 90th-minute shot from just inside the area that he sent high over the bar. He also sent a pair of free kicks into the same space way above the crossbar, somewhat closer to the top row of spectators than Spain's goal.
And then came the shootout, football's version of a coin toss.
Ronaldo hasn't had the best of times in shootouts in recent years. While still with Manchester United, his spot kick against Chelsea in the Champions League final was saved. And this year, his attempt against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals was again saved.
Two big misses for a big player on the big stage, and no chance for redemption in Donetsk.
"If it would have been 4-4, he would have taken the last penalty and we would have talked in another way (now)," Bento said through a translator. "We defined beforehand what would be the best conditions to succeed and now we didn't. I don't regret anything."
Ronaldo came into Wednesday's match on a roll. He was less-than-stellar in Portugal's opening two matches, but he scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands to guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals. Then he scored the lone goal in the win over the Czech Republic.
Those two displays certainly quieted the distracting chants of "Messi, Messi" that he endured earlier in the tournament. And they went a long way to easing the somewhat commonly held view that Ronaldo is no good on the international stage.
But his decision to wait - possibly only in the hope that he would be the hero - in the shootout did nothing to keep the team in the tournament.
And in the end, the lasting image from the shootout - maybe even more memorable than Cesc Fabregas' winning shot off the post - will be Ronaldo with his face hidden in his hands, probably wondering what went wrong.
"It's always difficult moments," Ronaldo said. "I expressed myself in the way that I feel."