A 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo looked dejected as Belgium eliminated defending European champions Portugal out of the competition from the round of 16 of UEFA Euro 2020 at Estadio La Cartuja in Sevilla on Monday, June 28.
This also signals the potential end of Cristiano Ronaldo’s era at the UEFA European Championship, which had coincidentally started in 2004 with the Portuguese star shedding tears as Greece had beaten Portugal in the final.
The forward, however, has come a long way since then. Not only has he won the elite competition once and is the current top goal scorer (14 goals) in the Euros, he is also the only player to have featured in five European Championships.
With Ronaldo nearing 40 when the next UEFA Euro Cup is scheduled, it is unlikely that he will continue to play at this level. Hence, we look at three Cristiano Ronaldo performances that will be etched in UEFA Euro Cup’s history forever.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Netherlands – UEFA Euro 2004
Led by captain Luis Figo with Deco acting as the midfield general, a 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo was not the talk of the town when Portugal clashed with the Netherlands in the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2004.
With Rudd Van Nistelrooy, Clarence Seedorf and Marc Overmars featuring in the attack line of the Orange Army, hosts Portugal weren't even the favourites to win the match. However, a young Ronaldo headed the ball into the net in the 26th minute to change the dimension of the game.
Portugal would eventually win the semi-final 2-1 with Ronaldo taking the team to the final of a major international tournament for the very first time.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Hungary – UEFA Euro 2016
After drawing with Austria and Iceland in the first two group stage matches, Portugal were on the verge of an early elimination. The match against Hungary was a must-win and the build-up to it was dominated by an angry Ronaldo throwing a reporter’s mic into the lake.
However, the player turned up with the form of his life in the crucial match. Portugal needed a draw and Ronaldo inspired them to come from a goal down on three occasions. Portugal’s first goal came when Ronaldo set up Nani to make the scoreline 1-1. It was followed by a mesmerizing backheel by Ronaldo for the second goal before he scored the third with his trademark header.
Portugal advanced as the best third-place team from the group, even after drawing all their group matches.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Wales – UEFA Euro 2016
Despite stunning one and all to reach the semi-finals of the Euro 2016, Portugal were heavily criticized for their inability to win games comprehensively. While all their group stage matches ended in draws, their run in the knockouts was unconvincing as well.
Portugal's win over Croatia in the pre-quarterfinals had come through an extra-time winner courtesy of Croatian goalie Danijel Subasic's blunder, whereas they could only beat Poland in penalties in the quarter-final.
The semi-final against Wales was a test by fire. Brushing aside all comparisons with his Real Madrid teammate and Wales captain Gareth Bale, Ronaldo scored the opener in the early minutes of the second half before setting up another goal for his strike partner Nani three minutes later, to seal the victory.
Portugal were guided to the final of a major international tournament for the second time in 12 years with Ronaldo at the helm.
Featured Image: AFP/ Franck Fife