Cristiano Ronaldo produces most arrogant display in football history as Portugal win in spite of him

Will Ford
Ronaldo Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo's ego nearly brought Portugal's demise at Euro 2024.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s extraordinary ego could and should have cost Portugal and Roberto Martinez. Diogo Costa’s brilliance saw them through in spite of the greatest goalscorer in history.

30 seconds before one of the most self-aggrandising displays in football history, Martin Keown and Guy Mowbray dovetailed beautifully on commentary. “It’s ‘The Ronaldo Show’,” Keown exclaimed. “And he’s got nothing to show for it,” Mowbray added. It was almost as though Ronaldo had heard them and took issue with the comments, which weren’t meant as a taunt.

By that point – after 37 minutes – Ronaldo had juggled the ball to roars of delight from the fans, smashed a free-kick just over the bar, linked the play beautifully on a couple of occasions with neat flicks, and mistimed at least three jumps for headed chances he would ordinarily have scored from having lost defenders through what we would suggest was pretty standard movement for a striker, but was highlighted by gushing pair Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer in the BBC studio.

For better and for worse it had been all about Ronaldo. Mainly for better, until he decided to take another direct free-kick in perhaps the most extraordinary example of his unbridled ego in history, and therefore one of the most laughable displays of arrogance ever seen on a football pitch.

The ball was placed by the referee – after Ronaldo had tried to move it further towards goal – about 15 yards from the byline, midway between the left edge of the penalty area and the touchline. In short, it was a ridiculous angle. He got nowhere near with his 58th direct free-kick in international football, bringing his success percentage down to 1.72 (1 in 58), which later dropped after his 59th attempt to 1.69 and then 1.67 after his 60th.

The most ridiculous thing about it was that Ronaldo is far, far more likely to score from a header with the ball crossed in from that favourable position. Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva had both already delivered wonderful balls in from open play that Ronaldo should have got on the end of in what at times felt like was a bid to ensure someone scored in a testimonial. But better that than an Under-10s game, which was what this turned into the moment Ronaldo strode back from the ball and took up his iconic stance.

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Either Ronaldo is too daft to realise he has a better chance of scoring with his head – and we really don’t think he is – or he is too self-obsessed to risk the possibility of a teammate scoring rather than himself, as could have been the case had Fernandes or Silva delivered the ball into the box.

There aren’t many footballers – just one in fact, whose name the Slovenian fans were chanting at Ronaldo in order to mock him after his fourth failed free-kick attempt – who can match what the Portugal striker has achieved on a football pitch, which is why he’s so adored by many. But there are literally no footballers – not even Lionel Messi – who would have taken a pop at goal from there, which is why even more people love to see him lose.

It was clear after 60 minutes, as Portugal continued to bang their heads against the Slovenian wall while the threat from Benjamin Sesko, Andraz Sporar and then Zan Celar increased on the break, that the hopes of a country rested on an old bloke, clearly past his best, letting go of his ego and stepping aside.

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That clearly wasn’t going to happen, so instead they were reliant on their manager taking an inevitable Ronaldo hissy fit in his stride when hauling him off in favour of a more mobile option, like Goncalo Ramos, who’s scored seven goals in his last seven starts for his country, including a hat-trick in the last 16 of their last major tournament.

Roberto Martinez will no doubt have felt his decision was justified when Diogo Jota was taken down in the penalty area after a brilliant run to hand Ronaldo the chance to score from the spot in the first half of extra time. Ronaldo has scored 163 of 192 penalties in his career, and has scored 20 since he last missed one against Middlesbrough for Manchester United in February 2022.

He struck it perfectly, but not quite in the corner and Jan Oblak produced an outstanding save. It was an unbelievable moment that left Ronaldo in tears at half-time of extra time, and could so easily have proved costly as Portugal’s other senior citizen Pepe – who for some reason remained on the pitch to make the mistake – fluffed a pass with his legs leaden after 115 minutes of football, allowing Sesko to race through on goal and force an excellent save from Diogo Costa, which would prove to be a portent for the penalty shootout.

Incredibly, Costa saved all three of Slovenia’s penalties, while Ronaldo, Fernandes and Silva scored theirs to send Portugal through to the quarter-finals and a meeting with France. Ronaldo will play, because Martinez hasn’t got the bottle to drop him. And perhaps in that game their legendary goalscorer’s obsession with scoring goals at all costs will bring his team’s downfall, as it so nearly did against the lowest ranked team in the competition.