We shall bypass the two hours of football and head right to the penalties, something I wish I could have done last night. There is a lot of talk about penalty shootouts being a lottery but there are some things that you can definitely look out for. German’s don’t miss, England don’t win, heroes can be made from the unlikeliest of candidates and villains can be anyone. The one thing that is a guarantee is that your big players always take a penalty, right?
As a fan sitting in the stands, in the fan zones and bars, at home or at work on your smart phone the one thing that gives you hope is that your key players will stride to the spot and take their chance. They probably all won’t chip it down the middle ala Pirlo and Ramos but that is not what you are looking for. You just want them to hold their nerve and put it in the back of the net. When your best and most important player is also the captain of the team you want him to go up first and set the tone, right?
The order is a combination of best taker to worst and most confident to least. So how can it be that the second best player in the world and a man whose self confidence is second to none was left staring at the stars wondering what just happened.
You cannot guarantee that the pressure will not get to someone or that the keeper won’t save one so you cannot guarantee that you will get five penalties. Especially if Bruno Alves miscounts and has to do football’s longest walk twice.
This was supposed to be Ronaldo’s tournament. While Lionel Messi lies on a beach somewhere this was his chance to lay claim to be being the best player in the world. Winning Portugal a major tournament for the first time and thus winning the Ballon d’Or. He had played so well carrying his team past the Dutch and the Czechs but last night he didn’t have the same influence on the game. I guess if any country is going to know his strengths and weaknesses it’s the one that he plies his club trade in and boasts four of his club mates.
In 120 minutes of football he had one chance but he snatched at it and sliced it wide. In extra time he was non existent because the Portuguese midfield that had battled so ferociously were dead on their feet. Spain pressed for the winner but Rui Patricio would not be beaten and penalties it was.
Make no mistake about it this was the biggest match of his International career. Sure he played in a Euro’s final eight years ago but he was only 19 and was playing alongside the tail end of Portugal’s golden generation. This is his team. He is the talismanic captain that has taken his country on his back and got them to the semi final stage. The shootout was a big moment and it called for a big man but one of two things happened.
Either Ronaldo thought back to Moscow where he stepped up third for Manchester United in the Champions League final. That night he tried to fake out Petr Cech but it didn’t work and his penalty was saved. Or he thought back two short moths ago to a Champions League semi final at the Bernabeu. He stepped up first for Madrid against Bayern but again his penalty was saved. Two huge moments for him and both passed him by. Maybe he thought not again, maybe this moment was too big for him. He saw Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal and thought we have practised penalties together hundreds of times and he knows my routine better than anyone, maybe it’s better if I step aside and let my team mates take this one. Maybe for one moment he doubted his ability and felt what is to be like the rest of us… normal.
Doubtful I hear you cry. OK here’s the second theory. The Portuguese camp are supremely confident in their penalty taking ability. They don’t feel as though they are going to miss. In Rui Patricio they have a keeper who they know will stop at least one of the Spanish attempts. Ronaldo wants the glory moment and he and all the weight that a talisman carries turns to his coach Bento and says “I want number five”. Bento agrees because confidence is high in the camp and who better to take the penalty that will put them in Sunday’s final than a man who strikes the ball with both power and accuracy.
Those are just two theories and maybe they are both wrong and Portugal as a whole let the moment get to them and like Bruno Alves just miscalculated. There is bound to be plenty of finger pointing and excuse making for the next few weeks but one thing is certain, this is going to stay with Ronaldo for a long, long time.
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