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For Ronaldo, Euros have brought 20 years of pain and frustration
UEFA Euro

For Ronaldo, Euros have brought 20 years of pain and frustration

Published Jun. 17, 2024 2:15 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo is poised to create a unique slice of European Championship history on Tuesday — but to a large extent, it has been a painful history for the Portugal superstar.

Ronaldo will become the first player to feature in six different Euros tournaments, assuming, as expected, he takes the field for his national team against the Czech Republic in Leipzig on Tuesday.

The record is a testament to both his excellence and longevity. He was already a star at 19 when he took part in his first tournament in 2004, and remained a critical part of the squad as it performed outstandingly in qualifying for the festivities in Germany this summer.

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But Ronaldo's Euros experiences have been as much a source of pain and frustration as glory. Truth be told, this quadrennial event has sometimes felt like a barrier to Ronaldo embellishing his legacy, rather than an opportunity to do so.

At 39, the end of his career beckons, even with the fanatical devotion Ronaldo shows towards his own physical well-being, a Tom Brady-esque philosophy of healthy eating and recuperation ensuring he remains in remarkable condition.

He is refusing to look too far ahead, despite the interest — occasionally hysteria — surrounding his every movement.

"Step by step, live in the moment," he told reporters this week. "Be calm. Believe that it is possible. The dream must always be highlighted. We know it is a short competition.

"The records are (just) a consequence to me. I don't target these things, and I think they are better when they just appear in a natural way. I am pleased it is the Euros again. To enjoy it, the best way is just to play well so the team can win.

"I feel the nerves as always. When I don't feel them anymore, it is probably time to stop playing."

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Ronaldo's very first Euros was a special moment for soccer in Portugal. It was the first time the nation had hosted a major tournament, and it had a team worthy of the high expectations that ensued.

Portugal made it all the way to the title game after Ronaldo scored the crucial first goal in a semifinal win against the Netherlands. But then Greece produced an upset for the ages in the final, completing a 150/1 triumph in one of the biggest shocks in soccer history.

Four years later, Ronaldo was at the peak of his powers, having just won the Champions League with Manchester United. However, after Portugal comfortably topped Group A, it came unstuck against a tough Germany side in the quarterfinals.

In 2012, there was more annoyance to come. Ronaldo scored the winner against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal, and Portugal held World Cup winner and defending champion Spain to a 0-0 tie after extra time in the semi.

Then, the ill-advised decision to place Ronaldo fifth in the order for taking penalty kicks meant he did not even get to take a shot in the shootout, as Spain advanced.

At last, in 2016, Ronaldo secured the only tournament crown of his career (though Portugal did add the Nations League in 2019). Even that came with a tinge of disappointment, though.

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A strong tackle from Dimitri Payet left Ronaldo hobbling eight minutes into the final against France, and he was forced from the field soon after. He then took on the role of a de facto assistant coach, bellowing advice from the sidelines, as substitute Eder clinched the trophy with an extra-time strike.

Finally, at Euro 2020 (held in 2021), Portugal survived a difficult group, but a tame showing in the round of 16 saw them eliminated by Belgium. Roberto Martinez was head coach of that Belgium squad, but he now leads Portugal, and oversaw a perfect 10-wins-from-10-games surge through qualifying.

At Euro 2020, Ronaldo was joint top scorer with five goals. The man he shared the honor with was Patrik Schick, of the Czech Republic, who is still the leader of the offensive line for the Czechs.

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Portugal defender Diogo Dalot insisted the standard of excellence Ronaldo has shown throughout his career is permeating through the squad.

"Ronaldo always thinks in big proportions," Dalot told reporters. "We want to support him because he is our captain. He's the one who has won most among us."

Also in Group F are Turkey and Georgia, who meet in Dortmund earlier on Tuesday.

The Czechs see a window of opportunity, regardless of Ronaldo's pedigree, and would like nothing more than to add to the superstar's list of painful Euros memories.

"The Portuguese players are famous, and they are popular all over the world," Czech coach Ivan Hasek said. "We have to face them. We have to play as a team. That's the only chance."

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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