The world is a Messi-anic universe. The little Argentine moulds soccer, shaping and sculpting the beautiful game, ennobling all the talents of a contemporary superlative athlete, playing soccer the modern way – pace at precision, both breathtaking and breezy.
Many of Messi’s fine traits apply to Cristiano Ronaldo, though the Argentine is supposedly the bane of Ronaldo’s existence, the vicious cause of his runner-up status in the global soccer hierarchy, so at odds with the Portuguese’s manic compulsion to always be the best. At times, Ronaldo may look cartoonish with his Chippendale-routine celebrations and his other ‘M’as-tu-vu’ eccentricities, but he is also the ultimate professional, ever toiling, ever striving for self-improvement. The kid from Madeira croons about professional betterment.
CR7 is a terminator. His towering header ridiculed James Chester and Wales in the semi-finals with an imperious athleticism that left the Welsh grappling and flapping in despair. A few moments later, Portugal took an unassailable 2-0 lead. Again, Ronaldo was instrumental, taking a bouncing ball and shooting. The shot, with that menacing right-foot of his, went wide, but there stood Nani to poke it into the back of the net. Ronaldo checked for the offside flag and as Nani dashed off in celebration, he celebrated individually. Yes, Ronaldo, the assist was yours.
Now Paris and the grandest stage of all, a major tournament final, await Ronaldo. Yesterday, Antoine Griezmann, France’s Petit Prince, who lives by Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s line ‘Make your life a dream, and make your dream a reality,’ dispatched the world champions with a confident penalty and a stabbed finish, but the French triumph was scarcely triumphant. In a moment of madness, Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded a home advantage penalty. Bastian Schweinsteiger was, at best, a failed ballet dancer, not a perpetrator of devilish sins. Thus passes the glory of the world.
In France, Ronaldo’s form has oscillated between the mediocre and outright bad, if not pathetic.
With the Stade de France the final stop, can Ronaldo create a magical dreamworld for Portugal? In France, Ronaldo’s form has oscillated between the mediocre and outright bad, if not pathetic: the dash out of his legs, the precision gone from his execution. Before Portugal’s final group game against Hungary, Ronaldo had been listless, an uncanny moodiness encircling his persona. The Portuguese player was goalless, angry and frustrated, not in the least against Iceland, who neutralized him easily, even without double-marking him.
He galvanized his team against both Hungary and Wales. That’s Ronaldo, he keeps going, and he keeps going, even when the momentum is skewed against him. In the first half against the Dragons, Ronaldo was nigh invisible, in spite of his teammates hoofing the ball in his direction. Therein lies Portugal’s vulnerability. It is a one-man-team, and it isn’t. Portugal is an underdog, a nation of 10.5 million inhabitants, playing in its second major final since 2004, not supposed to have a player of Ronaldo’s magnitude. Against France, he, once more, will be Portugal’s route to the goal and tournament glory.