‘It’s the elephant in the room’: Roberto Martinez’s ‘blind faith’ in Cristiano Ronaldo cost Portugal at EURO 2024

‘It’s the elephant in the room’: Roberto Martinez’s ‘blind faith’ in Cristiano Ronaldo cost Portugal at EURO 2024

 

The 39-year-old played almost every minute of Portugal’s campaign at the European Championship in Germany but Optus Sport experts argue the side’s reliance on him cost them.

The “blind faith” manager Roberto Martinez showed in Cristiano Ronaldo cost Portugal a semi-final spot at EURO 2024.

The star has played his final European Championship match, with his side bowing out in a quarter-final penalty shootout loss to France on Saturday (AEST).

The 39-year-old played every minute of the 120-minute scoreless deadlock and converted his side’s first penalty, but Joao Felix’s miss allowed Kylian Mbappe’s side to run away 5-3 winners from the spot.

Three statistics highlighted the “elephant in the room” that the Manchester United legend couldn’t do what he used to.

His record-breaking sixth EUROs – and his final – marked the first time Ronaldo has failed to score a single goal at a major tournament.

He fired off the most shots, with a zero per cent conversion rate from his 23, and failed to convert any of his six free-kicks, extending his conversion rate at major tournaments out to one in 60 free-kick attempts.

Speaking on Optus Sport’s Daily Kick On, French football expert Julien Laurens said Portugal’s boss’ “blind faith” cost the side the tournament.

Before pointing to the Al-Nassr star’s missed opportunity from eight yards out at Volksparkstadion as proof he should have been on reduced minutes.

“I just don’t think that physically now he is sharp enough for 90 minutes, 120 minutes, however long it is. He can last an hour and that’s it,” he said.

“There were times tonight where they played with 10 men, and at times against Slovenia, where they played with 10 men. At this level you cannot play with 10 men, I know he’s one of the greatest ever – I understand that – but at a certain age, he just can’t do it anymore.

I think this blind faith in Cristiano, and yeah he did well in the qualifiers but we would have done well in the qualifiers, they were in a terrible group. This blind faith in him really cost him [Martinez] in the tournament.

Even a self-confessed “big fan” of Ronaldo, Leeds United legend Michael Bridges admitted he shouldn’t have played almost every single minute of Portugal’s five matches.

The Portuguese star’s failure to find the back of the net – outside two penalty shootouts – in Germany denied him a chance to become the competition’s oldest goalscorer and add to his 29 goals.

Ronaldo has had the most shots of any player at the tournament with 23, yet failed to score, and only Portugal’s goalkeeper Diogo Costa has played more minutes than him at the competition.

Former Socceroo Tommy Oar agreed the reliance on Ronaldo hindered his country’s chances, pointing to his insistence to take every free-kick despite only converting one of his 60 attempts at major tournaments.

“He definitely did,” Oar said on Optus Sport’s Your Opinion segment.

I blame the coach as well because he allowed it to unfold by putting him in every minute of every game almost and the thing with Ronaldo is it’s always the ‘Ronaldo show’, it’s not about the team.

“You can see, for example, Portugal’s wide free kicks. He’s probably the best header of the ball in the world and he’s out shooting from the sideline. He did it in the last few games and for me that’s not a team decision.

“For whatever reason, his teammates are not willing to take it off him.

It’s almost like the elephant in the room. He’s missed this many, we’re all talking about it but he still goes and takes it, as his teammate, how frustrating would that be?

“So I think he completely stitched them up.”

But Martinez’s move to rely on Ronaldo isn’t anything new for the outfit.

Across his six EUROs, he has only missed one match – Portugal’s final group match in 2008 – and it was because his nation had already booked their knockout ticket.

LALIGA expert Phil Kitromilides dubbed it a “missed opportunity” and criticised Martinez’s decision to allow Ronaldo to play the entire 120 minutes.

He said it was “questionable” the star had played almost every minute of every single game.

“There is going to be a lot said and spoken about Cristiano Ronaldo after this tournament,” he said on DKO.

Portugal have gone out, not because of him but it doesn’t feel like he’s helped their cause at all. We’ve been at four of Portugal’s five matches and we’ve kind of said it from the start as well.

“It felt like he’s the odd one out and listen, it happens to everyone. One day I’m no longer going to be able to do this job, it’s going to happen. He cannot do the job that he used to be able to do better than anyone else in the world.

“It doesn’t matter what he’s done previously, what he is capable of doing now is not what he could do before. We have watched him very, very closely and we have seen that he can’t do it anymore. We’ve seen it, so obviously Roberto Martínez has seen it.”

The tournament’s leading all-time goalscorer was denied a second European title and a fairytale ending at the UEFA competition in Hamburg with their last-eight exit.

But it isn’t all bad news for Ronaldo fans, with expectations his swan song in national team colours may come at the 2026 World Cup.

 

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