Cristiano Ronaldo ensures Euro 2024 exit as France beat 10-man Portugal

Will Ford
Ronaldo Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo may as well not have been playing for Portugal against France.

From being involved to the point of embarrassment against Slovenia, Cristiano Ronaldo may as well not have been playing in defeat to France. Oh dear, Roberto Martinez.

Cristiano Ronaldo was all smiles during the anthem before the famously jovial footballer pointed animatedly to which side of the pitch he wanted at kick-off to Michael Oliver’s great bemusement, as the referee appeared to be questioning – as we all did – where this crazy, carefree cat has been for the last two decades. Ronaldo clearly wanted everyone else to be well aware of his new happy-go-lucky attitude to international football having told himself to enjoy this game as though it was his last. For Portugal’s sake, we hope it is.

It took 12 minutes for him to remember who he was and perform the first arm flap of frustration. Four minutes later he was shaking his head at a corner failing to beat the first man. He had 11 touches – just two in the opposition third; one of those a miscontrol – in a first half in which he was bossed by William Saliba and roundly, and thus hilariously, ignored by his teammates.

Rafael Leao made several bursts down the left but Ronaldo was too slow to keep up with him. He came short when Portugal needed runners in behind, and when he did make darts beyond the France back four he remained offside for the next couple of minutes in a huff at not getting the ball. On one occasion Joao Cancelo whipped a ball begging to be tapped in by a goal poacher as Ronaldo stood on the edge of the 18-yard box pointing at his leaden feet. Football was going on around him.

Even more so in the second half as Portugal raised the tempo. Cancelo played a wonderful pass with the outside of his foot through for Fernandes, who didn’t bother looking up and took on a first time shot which was well saved by Mike Maignan. Vitinha then played a lovely one-two with Leao but hit his effort straight at the France goalkeeper. Ronaldo was following in on that occasion, in all fairness.

Ronaldo’s arrogance was nauseating against Slovenia, but this game was arguably an even more damning indictment of him still playing for one of the best international teams in world football. Because having swung cross after cross into the box for him to fail to get on the end of in the last 16 clash, whether upon the instruction of Roberto Martinez or – more likely – having decided amongst themselves that they are more likely to progress through the tournament without him, Ronaldo’s teammates played as though he wasn’t there.

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In extra time we almost felt sorry for him. He spent the break sat on the pitch with a masseur per leg, smiling as he had done before kick-off, but this time we suspect in disbelief that he was about to play another 30 minutes of football. By the end of extra time, having missed the chance of the added period as he blazed Francisco Conceicao’s pass way over the bar from eight yards out, no outfield player at Euro 2024 had played more minutes than Ronaldo. He was quite clearly, and entirely reasonably, completely exhausted.

The attacking play of both sides was disappointing, but France were particuarly toothless, as has been the case throughout the tournament. They’ve now failed to score a goal in open play for 635 minutes and looked to be playing for a shootout midway through the first half of normal time, an odd tactic given the opposition goalkeeper had saved all three Slovenian spot-kicks in the previous round.

Kylian Mbappe had five shots but didn’t trouble Diogo Costa with any of them before going off in extra time to ice his nose. Antoine Griezmann still looks off it. Ousmane Dembele and Conceicao both looked dangerous when they came on, but made the wrong decision more often than not in the key moments. It was a game of excellent defending.

Pepe roared with delight having tackled Marcus Thuram after a lung-busting run with the France striker. There was a brilliant block by the 41-year-old madman, and also from Nuno Mendes, Ruben Dias, Dayot Upamecano and Saliba. It felt like it would take a long, long time for either team to score.

Costa couldn’t repeat his heroics and Joao Felix hit the post to cost Portugal a place in the semi-finals. But it’s not his fault, nor Ronaldo’s. While we’re convinced Portugal would have won this game with anyone else playing instead of him, Ronaldo – despite all evidence to the contrary – doesn’t run his international team.

Roberto Martinez does, and if he had any sense or bottle whatsoever he would now be looking ahead to a clash with Spain rather than dealing with questions about his use of a footballer so far past his best that his teammates play as though he’s not even there. Next time, for the sake of the ten players who outplayed their opponents, we would advise the Portugal manager to make sure he’s actually not.

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