Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No more taunts thrown at Ronaldo

Portugal star now spared 'Messi' chants

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WARSAW, Poland -- Cristiano Ronaldo had it all -- the deft touches, the blazing runs with the ball, the sulking, the petulance, and, in the end, that golden scoring touch.

The Portugal captain may have answered the critics who said he couldn't come through for the national team, that he couldn't duplicate on the international stage the club form that has made him one of the top players in the world.

"Our journey has been very hard. We overcame one more hurdle. We'll wait and see who we get in the semifinals," said Ronaldo, who headed in the winner Thursday to beat Czech Republic 1-0 to reach the European Championship semifinals.

"Expectations are high. We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground and take one step at a time. We have to win the next game. The goal is to get to the final."

There were no taunting chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi" directed at Ronaldo at the National Stadium as there have been at past matches, but the packed crowd whistled when the Real Madrid star touched the ball. And they whistled when he stepped up to take a free kick.

"Ronaldo is a very good player. He knows how to play. He doesn't have any problems when he penetrates the defence," Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said. "There has been talk of (Lionel) Messi or Ronaldo, but I think both are good and hard to defend."

It's that very comparison with Barcelona's Argentine maestro that has dogged Ronaldo since he moved to Real Madrid three years ago. And on most occasions, it's Messi who has come out on top.

He has claimed three straight Ballon d'Or trophies since Ronaldo won the award in 2008, and his Barcelona side ruled the Spanish league for years until Real Madrid finally took the title this year. Even then, Ronaldo finished second to Messi in the goal-scoring table.

And then there were Ronaldo's national team scoring woes. Over an 18-match period under the previous coach, he scored only twice -- once from the penalty spot.

He managed just one goal each at Euro 2008 and the last two World Cups, earning the scorn of many a Portugal fan and a reputation for failing to shine on football's grandest stages.

He looked headed down that same road at Euro 2012 with lustreless -- and scoreless -- performances in Portugal's first two matches against Germany and Denmark.

Then came his two-goal game against the Netherlands, perhaps the finest match of his international career.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2012 C8

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