For a period of time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney enjoyed similar career arcs.
Both won their first international caps in 2003 six months apart – Rooney in February, Ronaldo in August – before the pair made significant impacts at Euro 2004.
That summer, Sir Alex Ferguson united them at Old Trafford and although Rooney’s Premier League performances perhaps initially put him ahead in the pecking order, by 2007 Ronaldo was just as vital to the Red Devils. By the time he left United in 2009, the now-established Messi v Ronaldo rivalry was essentially – at least in the eyes of the English media – a three-way fight between that duo and Rooney.
We know how that pans out but internationally there is still much to compare between Ronaldo and Rooney, as neither has enjoyed the same influence as they did 12 years ago in their first major tournament. But while Rooney’s performances for England so far at Euro 2016 have been encouraging and understated, Ronaldo is approaching something of a tragicomedy.
His shot count for the tournament stands at 20; 10 against Iceland and 10 in last night’s 0-0 draw with Austria – that’s more than nine of the 24 teams.
The penalty miss may have drawn hilarity but it happens to the very best; it did, though, underline a performance in which he was simply trying too hard.
Whether it be for Portugal’s own cause or his relentless desire to catch Michel Platini’s goalscoring record and become the first man to find the net in four Championships, is unclear. But it’s abundantly obvious, for all his brilliance and match-winning ability, his selfishness is damaging the Selecao’s best chance for an international trophy since World Cup 2006.
Drawn in arguably the easiest group, they should have comfortably booked their place in the last 16 by now. Especially with what was supposedly a talented Austrian team so underwhelming. Yet they’re making it look like hard work and with Hungary smelling an upset and a chance to win the group, although you still back them to progress, it’s far from certain.
To pin all of Portugal’s problems on one man is unfair but then when he dominates so much of what they do, it’s difficult not to at least highlight such obvious issues.
Because everything Portugal produce is centred around their No7. He takes every free-kick despite having team-mates such as Joao Moutinho and Raphael Guerreiro by his side. No matter the angle, there is zero mystery. Nothing is crossed nor is there any semblance of invention; it’s cheeks and chest puffed out and that straight run-up before the inevitable strike over the crossbar or into the wall.
The responsibility for anything out of shooting range – i.e 40 yards or more – or corners is passed to a team-mate with the ball then directed in his vicinity and him make an obviously premeditated run.
Several times in the first half was he caught gesturing to Ricardo Quaresma for passing to Nani instead of him and Ricardo Carvalho for a wayward header where he felt he was better placed to score.
As much as he petulantly raged at Iceland for their defensive tactics, and Austria adopted a similar policy of containment, it’s not as if he’s making it hard for them.
There was a moment in the last minute when the ball broke to him on the corner of the area, the box was packed with red and white shirts, but instead of an attempt to try and pick out a team-mate or run at a defender to create space, an ambitious shot on the bounce was predictably struck against an Austrian player. It was a familiar story throughout and the more Ronaldo tries to command the attention, the less of an impact he has.
For it’s time for him to take a leaf out of Rooney’s book. To understand he can’t win games on his own, and sometimes it’s okay not to be the best player on the field.
Ronaldo’s miss cost Portugal the victory at the Parc des Princes, meaning that the 2004 finalists have taken just two points from two games at this European Championship.
Fernando Santos’ side now face a must-win game against current Group F leaders Hungary in their next outing, with Fonte expecting Ronaldo to be ready to lead the Portugal line again.
“He is mentally the strongest person in the world,” Fonte told Sport360. “This is not the first time that this has happened to him.
“Nobody can imagine the pressure he has on his shoulders. He deals with it every day, I wouldn’t worry about him.”
Despite Portugal’s struggles in front of goal in their opening two games, Fonte – an unused substitute in both games so far in France – believes his side have performed well and have what it takes to progress.
“We are obviously disappointed not to get the three points but you can’t fault our hard work and the way we tried to score,” the Southampton centre-back said.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the net, and today was one of those days. There are no easy games in the Euros. It is just a shame that the goalkeeper has made some incredible saves.
“We just need to take the positives. We are creating chances and dominating games.
“We just have to win the last game. We are disappointed now, but tomorrow our heads will be clear.”
Fonte admitted that it’s been difficult to watch from the sidelines so far, but hailed the influence of Portugal’s supporters at Euro 2016.
He said: “It is hard to be on the bench, you feel the energy from the fans and you want to be a part of it. The stadiums generate an amazing atmosphere, and you just want to be part of it with your team-mates.”
Hinteregger, 23, hauled Ronaldo down in the 78th minute of the Group F clash at the Parc des Princes but the Real Madrid star misfired from the spot, hitting the post.
Austria held on to secure their first point of the European Championship and Hinteregger was delighted to be given a reprieve.
“It was a feeling of relief,” the Borussia Monchengladbach defender told Sport360 after the game. “Before he took it I was so angry with myself because I knew it was a foul and a mistake by me.
“So when he missed his penalty, I was so happy – I was the happiest man in France. It was so great that we got one point.
Hinteregger admitted that the foul was down to Ronaldo’s physicality, saying: “The left-winger crossed the ball and Cristiano came sprinting to me. No-one can defend against him when he sprints like that.
“I went to block him but he is so strong, he is like a machine. We fought to be first for the ball but he won this fight.”
Austria became the first team since Spain at Euro 2012 to stop Portugal from scoring in a European Championship and Hinteregger said he relished the opportunity to come up against Ronaldo.
“He was unbelievable,” Hinteregger said. “Now I know that he is the best player in the world. He really is the best player – I’m so happy that he didn’t score against us. “
Austria take on Iceland in their final group game knowing a win should be enough to take them through to the last-16 and Hinteregger is optimistic of securing a knockout berth.
“We are confident now,” he said. “We wanted to get one point in this game to prepare us for the final game. Now we can get a win to go through to the next round.”