End beckons again for Cristiano Ronaldo after Portugal Euros Exit

Time is up — again — for Portugal’s aging superstar Cristiano Ronaldo after an inglorious Euro 2024 exit with a quarter-final defeat against France.

France ousted the 2016 winners 5-3 on penalties after a goalless quarter-final in Hamburg on Friday and Ronaldo was ineffectual at best, damaging to his own side’s aspirations at worst.

In the 2022 World Cup when former coach Fernando Santos dropped Ronaldo to the bench for the team’s 6-1 demolition of Switzerland, a bright Portugal future shimmered on the horizon.

However, his successor Roberto Martinez has backed the 39-year-old, now playing in Saudi Arabia at Al-Nassr, to the hilt and beyond.

Maintaining the former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward as their figurehead, Portugal swept through Euros qualification with a 100 percent record and were among the favorites in Germany.

However, they have badly under-performed with Ronaldo failing to find the net in five appearances this summer. The striker is without a goal in his last nine major tournament matches.

Despite boasting strong options to replace him, including Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Paris Saint-Germain’s Goncalo Ramos, Martinez refused to take Ronaldo off against France.

Didier Deschamps substituted Les Bleus icon Kylian Mbappe as he struggled to make an impact but Ronaldo remained even as the game passed him by.

In Portugal’s Last-16 win over Slovenia, Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty in extra time. He burst into tears, a distracting sideshow, but Martinez praised the forward’s emotional reaction after the game as a sign of his passion.

However many suspect those tears were not for Portugal but for himself, as he failed to break the record for the oldest player ever to score at a European Championship.

Ronaldo also ended his run of scoring at every major international tournament he has competed in, and could not extend his record of 14 Euros goals.

He took 23 shots without success in Germany, and perhaps the most damning was a glittering opportunity in extra-time against France.

Spritely winger Francisco Conceicao cut the ball back to the forward, a few yards out from goal, but somehow he fired his team’s clearest chance high over the bar.

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It was the kind of chance that Ronaldo has dispatched a hundred times in his career.

Ronaldo’s presence heavily conditions the way Portugal plays.

His team-mates, including creative geniuses Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, often resort to crosses to try and find him.

Cristiano Ronaldo no longer has the pace to consistently break in behind the defense, limiting the passing options of the team’s playmakers.

Martinez did not seem powerful enough to leave Ronaldo out of his plans altogether and could not even bring himself to substitute the forward at the tournament, except for the shock 2-0 defeat by Georgia.

Ronaldo started that match even though Portugal was guaranteed to win the group, while virtually every other regular was rested.

The coach said after the elimination by France that no decision had been made over Ronaldo’s future at the international level.

“We just finished the game, everything is still too raw, we’re suffering a defeat as a team, there’s no individual decisions at this point,” Martinez told reporters.

One of the reasons the Spanish coach may not feel powerful enough to cut the cord is the ‘cult of Cristiano’ which is evident among the team’s supporters.

Adults stalked the streets of Frankfurt, Leipzig and Berlin this summer, relentlessly yelling for hours on end Ronaldo’s “Siu” celebration.

To attend a Portugal match is to swim in a sea of maroon Ronaldo ‘7’ shirts, with some fans wearing masks of their talisman’s face.

Even opposition fans come to watch the Ronaldo circus, though there is more sulking and pouting than goals now.

“(Our fans) mostly wanted to see Ronaldo, that’s why they flocked to the match,” noted Slovenia midfielder Adam Gnezda Cerin of a March friendly in which they beat Ronaldo and Portugal 2-0.

Although at the Euros they were eventually eliminated by Portugal on penalties, they exposed Ronaldo’s inadequacies once more at this level and France finished the job.

Cristiano Ronaldo admitted these will be his last Euros, but as Portugal now turns their attention to the 2026 World Cup, their chances will surely be magnified without the preening, past-it hitman.

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