Ronaldo’s cup of woe

Ronaldo looks jittery and unsure of himself. The 31-year-old striker’s inability to get on the score-sheet over 180 minutes of football has surely hit his psyche.

Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo agonises after missing a penalty against Austria in a Group F match of the EURO 2016 at Par des Princes in Paris on June 18.   -  REUTERS

Cristiano Ronaldo needs a goal. Portugal needs a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. The inability to get on the score-sheet after 180 minutes of football is haunting the striker and his team alike.

 

The Real Madrid forward was presented with a perfect chance, as he stepped up to convert a penalty against Austria in the 80th minute. But much to his dismay, and that of his team, Ronaldo’s effort bounced off the post.

As more such chances go abegging, Ronaldo — the star among stars in Real Madrid — looks more jittery and unsure of himself. Playing in his record-breaking 128th game for the country, the Portugal captain worked hard, holding the ball, combining well with Gomes, who operated down the left flank. Ronaldo, however, playing as a No. 9, rarely dropped deep to have a more telling role on the game.

The skipper — usually a man of confidence — lacked the killer instinct that makes him so lethal, in the attacking third. Ronaldo failed to create any chances for his team-mates from open play and had only three shots on target from the 10 attempts he made. A dominant Portugal — enjoying 57 percent possession — tried to channel its play through the team's talisman, as Ronaldo received 40 passes in the opposition half. The former FIFA Ballon d’Or winner, though, failed to make the most of it and was seen reluctant to take on defenders, choosing to pass or try audacious shots from outside the box.

 

Ronaldo or Messi, when on song, are an opposition's nightmare, with their pace and guile regularly bamboozling defenders worldwide. But a lack of goal at the EUROs has made the Real Madrid forward desperate, with the positive intent — the familiar dribble, the step-on — missing from his game.

Eagerly looking for his first goal in the 2016 Championship, the striker even tried his luck from free-kicks, which were often 35-40 yards out. The forward has now failed to score from 36 direct free-kicks in the EUROs and World Cups, a dubious distinction.

Ronaldo, despite his talent with the dead ball, would have better served his team as the target man inside the box. I believe one of the key attributes of his game is his ability in the air. Ronaldo, one of the most aggressive headers in the game, has a great leap and a perfect understanding of positioning.

Portugal’s inherent dependence on the skipper for goals has now put the team on the brink of elimination. Anything short of a win in the final group game against Hungary might throw it out of the competition.

Goals, however, can change a player's and a team’s fortunes. Belgium luckily founds its scoring boots against Republic of Ireland. Marc Wilmots has a top-notch team with abundant talent. The goal from Romelu Lukaku in the 48th minute against Ireland changed the team’s outlook, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne playing more freely thereafter.

Spain, ever impressive with its tiki-taka, was also criticised for lack of goals after its first match against the Czech Republic. A double strike from its No. 9 Alvaro Morata against Turkey helped the defending champion progress to the knockout round of the competition.

The struggles of a No. 9 can often pull a team down. Football is all about goals and the confidence that comes with it. Portugal will be hoping that a Ronaldo strike is just round the corner.