Ronaldo's set-piece numbers are bad – but his others are much worse


Fifty-seven, missed. Fifty-eight, missed. Fifty-nine, missed. Sixty, missed. Maybe time to let someone else have a go, Cristiano?

Far be it from any journalist to tell arguably Portugal’s best-ever player – scratch that, perhaps the world’s best – what to do.

But Cristiano Ronaldo’s unwavering self-belief in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary is the elephant in the stadium at this point.

Another four free-kick shots against Slovenia on Monday night, none scored. No question over who was taking each set-piece and, although his team-mates humoured the idea he might cross this one, there was no question where it was ending up.

But the 39-year-old’s eye-opening record of one goal out of 60 attempts from dead-balls is a sideshow. It dates back two decades. Eric Dier has a better track record at international tournaments, but you would still rather have Ronaldo up front.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner deserves better than to be the figure of fun he is becoming, the ironic question of ‘who’s going to take this, then?’ every time a Portugal player is fouled within shooting distance of the opposition box, although impossibly wide angles are not out of the question either.

His extraordinary legacy is in no danger but, at what he has now admitted will be his final Euros, this is not how Portugal’s favourite son is meant to bow out.

The free-kick stats are just a symptom of a wider stubbornness on both his and Portugal’s behalf. Neither he nor his country can move on from his glory days, like a crooner returning for one encore too many.

Even in his 11th major tournament he remains the man Portugal build their side around, but, unlike most of the previous 10, there is little justification or reward.

It is a situation not unlike his revered return to Man Utd, where the same questions began to emerge when he could no longer press with the intensity of his youth or build-up play as he used to.

At least then, it was accepted he was there for one reason – goals. Now even those come at a premium.

He has scored in every one of the other tournaments he has featured in, driving his country on to reach four semi-finals and two finals across 20 years. In most he was either on the rise or at his world-leading pomp, far from the shadow of himself he is now.

The aged, limited Ronaldo has registered an xG at Euro 2024 more than three times that of anyone else in the Portugal squad. He would still be comfortably ahead if he had not missed a penalty in that last-16 win over Slovenia.

He has created six chances for others, behind only Bernardo Silva out of the Portugal squad. If he were reinventing himself as a creator he would be doing a fine job, but instead he has wasted many more himself, and has already had more shots across the tournament than Scotland.

Even they managed to score twice, while he searches in vain to continue his clean sweep. Ronaldo has had five more shots than any other player in Germany.

The tears streaming down his face after that penalty miss masked a pain deeper than a man dwelling on that squandered spot-kick. He has already blanked twice from the spot in previous tournaments.

Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo (R) reacts to a missed penalty kick during the UEFA Euro 2024 round of 16 football match between Portugal and Slovenia at the Frankfurt Arena in Frankfurt am Main on July 1, 2024. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)
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Ronaldo was left in tears after his missed penalty against Slovenia

It was the reaction of a man who somewhere, begrudgingly, is slowly coming to a realisation already obvious to the outside world that he cannot quite cut it any more.

There were jokes that he might still turn out as a 43-year-old at the next Euros, made with a hint of earnestness – he is the epitome of a man who does not know when he is done. But even he acknowledged his own mortality after Monday’s game by admitting for the first time this will be his swan-song.

“It is, without doubt, my last Euros,” he told O Jogo before offering an insight into his tears. “I don’t get emotional about that, I get emotional about everything that football involves.”

“I will always give my best for this shirt, whether I fail or not,” he later added.

That honesty, and those tears, have followed a tournament of growing despair to this point. All the way back to facing the Czech Republic in their opening game, when he missed a number of chances and saw his assist for a Diogo Jota goal ruled out for offside when he timed his run too early.

He is the only outfield player to have started all four matches, but by the time of facing Slovenia the frustration had got too much. The spring absent from his jump to meet two Bernardo Silva crosses he would have buried for most of his career. The terrible free-kicks. The penalty. The weak shot which should have won it late on but was easily saved.

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The calls for Ronaldo to sit out Friday’s quarter-final with France will only get louder for it. Fernando Santos took him out for the World Cup last-16 game with Switzerland in 2022, and replacement Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win.

But the PSG forward has played only 24 minutes in Germany so far, while Roberto Martinez shows no signs of following his predecessor in dropping the figurehead of his country.

“He’s a constant example for us,” Martinez said on Monday evening. “I thank him for being the way he is, for caring for the group, for being someone after missing a penalty that he was the first penalty-taker (in the shoot-out).

“I was certain he had to be the first penalty-taker and show us the way to the victory.”

Ronaldo’s confidence in picking himself up to take that first spot-kick in Portugal’s shoot-out win was admirable.

But if Portugal are to beat France in a rematch of their 2016 final triumph, with Martinez’s blessing Ronaldo will need a touch of his old trademark magic rather than what he has shown so far.

If such a thing still exists.



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