Cristiano Ronaldo is raging – at referees, his luck and maybe time itself


It just doesn’t come as easily to Cristiano Ronaldo these days. Over the course of two decades he has so often bent the biggest occasions to his will, but Euro 2024 is bringing frustration. On a muggy evening in Gelsenkirchen, he found himself raging at the referee, raging at the fourth official and raging, perhaps, against the dying of the light.

With Portugal already through to the knock-out stage, he could easily have taken a well-earned rest, along with eight of the other nine players who started against Turkey four days earlier. But Ronaldo does not rest. Every match offers another opportunity to extend all those records he still holds, to delight his adoring public.

So here he was, well into his 40th year, trying to play the hits but getting nowhere. He never got over the referee’s refusal to award Portugal a penalty when his shirt was tugged by Georgia defender Luka Lochoshvili. He was shown a yellow card for his protests and risked further punishment when he yelled at the fourth official on his way down the tunnel at half-time.


Cristiano Ronaldo was angry at not getting decisions against Georgia (Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)

Frustration was understandable, but it consumed him for the rest of the evening as Georgia pulled off a shock 2-0 win to reach the knock-out stage in their first European Championship finals.

There was nothing riding on the game for Portugal, already confirmed as group winners, but Ronaldo looked desperate to score. He passed up an opportunity against Turkey on Saturday, unselfishly squaring the ball for Bruno Fernandes, but here he only had eyes for the opposition goal.

There was no penalty, much to his chagrin, so Ronaldo had to take what was going: a 35-yard free kick that stung the palms of Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili; a shot blocked by Giorgi Gvelesiani late in the first half; a close-range effort deflected over the crossbar by Lasha Dvali early in the second period.

Ronaldo has had 12 shots so far at Euro 2024, and not scored once. No player has has taken more at this tournament, but you would be wrong to portray this as a player guilty of missing clear chances. Most of them were classed by Opta as low-quality, adding up to an expected-goals (xG) total of 1.1. If anything, that is the problem: he is taking too many shots.

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Georgia led from the second minute after a well-taken goal by the wonderfully gifted Napoli forward Khvicha Kvarataskhelia, who idolises Ronaldo. A second goal followed early in the second half after — to the disdain of you-know-who — the VAR intervened to award Georgia a penalty, expertly converted by Georges Mikautadze, an unlikely front-runner in the competition for top scorer at this tournament.

Ronaldo was getting more and more irate, so finally Portugal coach Roberto Martinez concluded the benefits of keeping him on were outweighed by the risks. Ronaldo shook the coach’s hand — and that of Goncalo Ramos, his replacement — as he left the pitch, but he still looked livid about the way his evening had gone. He took his annoyance out on a water bottle, kicking it at a plastic crate, before settling down on the bench, where his frustration continued to simmer.

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Ronaldo shows his frustration on the bench (Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images)

It was not dissimilar to Portugal’s final group game against South Korea at the 2022 World Cup when, again with qualification for the knock-out stage already secured, Ronaldo declined the opportunity to rest before the round of 16. On that occasion, Ronaldo ended up playing himself out of the team, not least with his reaction to being substituted, when he was forced to deny suggestions that he had bad-mouthed Portugal’s then-coach Fernando Santos.

Ronaldo has performed better so far than he did in Qatar, when his only goal in five appearances (three starts, two as a substitute) came from the penalty spot in Portugal’s opening game against Ghana. But he has now gone seven appearances without scoring in a major tournament: against Uruguay, South Korea, Switzerland and Morocco at the World Cup and now the Czech Republic, Turkey and Georgia at Euro 2024.

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Many doubted whether Ronaldo would return to the international stage after the 2022 World Cup, particularly when he left Europe to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr a few weeks later. But his appetite to keep playing international football and scoring goals is arguably unrivalled in the history of the game. He played in nine of Portugal’s 10 European Championship qualifying games, scoring 10 goals in the process, rarely playing fewer than the 90 minutes. There has been little or talk of his place being under threat at this tournament.

His international record now stands at 130 goals in 210 appearances. Both of these are records that could stand for decades. Does it matter that those 10 goals in qualifying came against Liechtenstein (three), Luxembourg (two), Iceland (one), Slovakia (two) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (two)? Not really. That is the nature of international football, particularly in Europe, where qualifying campaigns feature so many games against smaller nations.

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Ronaldo is denied (again) against Georgia (Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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But it is relevant when you are left wondering whether, at 39, Ronaldo still has it in him to do it on the biggest stages against stronger opposition. He will fancy his chances against Slovenia in the round of 16 on Monday — fourth time lucky, perhaps — but what about a potential quarter-final against France or Belgium or a theoretical semi-final against Spain or Germany? Because that, after 18 months playing in the Saudi Pro League, could be the standard required of Ronaldo here.

This is Ronaldo’s 11th major international tournament and the first time he has not scored by the end of the group stage at the latest.

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That should come with the caveat that he unselfishly laid on that goal for Bruno Fernandes against Turkey and could very easily have been awarded — and almost certainly scored — a penalty against Georgia. But this is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has always dealt in numbers, not caveats.

Perhaps his moment will come at Euro 2024, perhaps in Frankfurt on Monday. If or when it does, it will be another milestone in a truly extraordinary sporting career. But the light that has shone so brightly for the past two decades is flickering now, even if his desire, quite clearly, is undimmed.

(Top photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)



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