Football’s greatest strength is its power to bring together nations and people; it is a global language and a uniting force. Never was that force stronger that at 9.50pm on Saturday June 18.
Europe is in a difficult place, and faces an uncertain future. Countries are being governed not through the power of hope and progress, but fear. Nations are fractured not into two or three pieces but many pockets of disillusionment, communities divided by the unmentionable force of hate. We needed a hero. Cristiano Ronaldo was that hero.
In the beer halls of Germany they roared. In the cafes of Paris they rocked back and forth in their chairs. In the pubs of London they hugged each other in celebration. Across Europe people wished strangers a good evening, smiling and shaking hands as if it were Christmas morning. Ronaldo was our force for unification.
It is difficult to imagine how Portugal’s performance – and that of their superstar – could have been any more preposterous. Noel Coward had met Joe Orton, and they had gone to the game together. Ronaldo suffered a frustrating opening night against Iceland, but that was only the aperitif before the full Sunday roast of despair. He endured the unholy trinity of hitting the woodwork, missing a penalty and having a goal ruled out for offside, all in the space of eight minutes. In between times, beforehand and after, Ronaldo took every set piece he could, attempted ten shots and flapped his arms in demonstrative anger so many times that it would have been no surprise to see him hovering three feet above the ground.
Nowhere will the laughter in response have been louder than in Iceland, where residents presumably danced in the streets and will giggle into the middle of next week. After the draw between the two countries on Tuesday, Ronaldo had accused Iceland’s players of a “small mentality” for celebrating taking a point on their major tournament debut. Karma is a cruel mistress, but you can’t doubt her sense of timing. Good evening, m’lady.
The mood after the game was almost surreal, Alan Shearer struggling to keep a straight face in the BBC Sport studio. This was a reaction not born out of hatred or malice (at least for most), but in the comedic nature of the evening’s events. Ronaldo plays in a hyper-emotional state, every missed opportunity provoking a visible meltdown. The ego that drives him forward, the engine of his success, produces extreme reactions under pressure.
The fun police will soon be out to order the smiles from faces, but there is little harm in enjoying such a roaring farce. We cheer players, lavishing them with our worship and adoration (and money), so we are also allowed to bask for a moment in a little schadenfreude. It’s okay to laugh once in a while.
Ronaldo will obviously come back from such minor individual setbacks, and plenty may have scurried to place bets on him scoring a hat-trick against Hungary. This was a blip in an almost flawless period of individual dominance. He will be disappointed, but not beaten. He also had the decency to greet a pitch invader after the game, and applaud the supporters. Following the Iceland debacle, his PR need is great.
The draw in itself is no disaster for Portugal. Beat Hungary in their final group game and they will more than likely top Group F, facing a tough last-16 tie against (probably) Belgium before an easier run through the tournament. On the evidence of their profligacy against Iceland and Austria, getting through the group stage will be the most pressing concern. Fernando Santos’ team have not won a competitive game by more than one goal since October 15, 2013, against Luxembourg.
The ‘pride before the fall’ routine is one of comedy’s most cliched formulae. On Saturday night in Paris, Ronaldo blew off the dust with his own unique punchline. That the tournament’s best player is still likely to have the last laugh only made this particular joke even more entertaining.