One microphone in a lake, one rescue act, two European Championship records and one press conference that showed where the balance of power lies between himself and Uefa; another day in the life of Cristiano Ronaldo. Or, as the man himself put it when asked about becoming the first player to score at four consecutive Euros and a record 17th appearance at the tournament: “That comes naturally.”
The Ronaldo show dominates Portugal’s participation in France whatever the script but his performance against Hungary finally allowed the three-times world player of the year to grab attention for valid reasons. After the petulant outburst after drawing with Iceland – “That’s why they are not going to do anything in the competition,” he said of minnows that finished above his team in Group F – came the penalty miss against Austria and reports of a moody captain at Portugal’s training camp.
State-of-mind stories gained credence when footage emerged of Ronaldo taking a television reporter’s microphone and throwing it into a lake during the team’s pre-match stroll in Lyon. Moody or not, his reaction against Bernd Storck’s emerging team was outstanding as he spared Portugal the ignominy of an early exit with two goals and one assist. Hungary were equally impressive, and the ease with which they troubled Portugal even with four players rested to avoid suspension in the last 16 was a concern for the coach, Fernando Santos. “After the last two matches I said the team was very good in every aspect apart from scoring as we were not playing convincingly up front. Today was completely the opposite,” he said. Ronaldo transformed the threat.
Three times Hungary led to put Portugal on the brink of elimination and three times a team that can appear divided between its superstar captain and the rest fought back. Having created Nani’s first-half equaliser with a perfectly weighted pass, Ronaldo created history by steering João Mário’s cross beyond Gabor Kiraly with an exquisite backheel to score at a fourth European Championship in succession. A trademark header from Ricardo Quaresma’s first contribution of an enthralling game saved his country once again after his opposite number, as captain and No7, Balazs Dzsudzsak, put the Hungarians ahead for a third time.
Inevitably, Ronaldo’s commanding performance did not cease with the final whistle. Named man of the match by the Uefa observer Youri Djorkaeff, protocol dictated the Portugal captain would face the media in a brief press conference as every other man of the match at the tournament has done before him. Uefa’s press officer at Stade de Lyon, however, arrived early to tell the assembled journalists that only he would be putting questions to Ronaldo.
Arguments ensued, a boycott was suggested and another Uefa delegate went to put the press officer straight having insisted protocol must be observed. But not this time. The Uefa delegate never reappeared and Ronaldo took one question from the press officer. “It’s a privilege for me to be named man of the match but our priority was to win the match. We failed to do that but the bottom line is we wanted to qualify and we hit it. We played a good match, it was a little insane at times. Personally speaking I was happy because the team was in dire straits. Now we are facing a great team in the next round and have to win.”
Ronaldo then left the stage to a back-drop of questions. “I didn’t decide anything. I’ll speak out there,” he said, referring to the post-match mixed zone where other media gather. Instead, he attempted to walk around the mixed zone entirely but was redirected by a Uefa official and paused for a few selfies. Further questioning may not have yielded quotes as ludicrous or headline-grabbing as Ronaldo’s criticism of Iceland but the charade demonstrated that he dictates to Uefa, not vice-versa.
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