The circus surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo raises serious questions about Portugal’s Euro 2024 hopes.

The circus surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo raises serious questions about Portugal’s Euro 2024 hopes.

As one man took centre stage in a circus, a properly serious team got on with the business of convincingly winning football matches around him. Is this to be the story of Portugal at Euro 2024?

Perhaps it really is the sign of a new team that, as a goal stood at Cristiano Ronaldo’s mercy, he shockingly passed for another player to score. It wasn’t the only moment where he threw back the years. There was also the moment when he beat a defender with a step-over to cross, something he hasn’t actually done in maybe a decade.

For all that, such contributions were largely at the fringes of a game, which was already won by the Selecao’s more influential modern players, though there is no doubting the main event of Roberto Martinez’s side.

After Ronaldo had passed for Bruno Fernandes to make it 3-0 against Turkey and secure top spot in the group, all of the players ran to the provider rather than scorer, the 39-year-old’s arms aloft. The Portuguese crowd sang his name more than anyone else.

Even the Turkish crowd, who deafeningly booed every opposition player when the teams were read out, stopped to raucously cheer the No 7. It was maybe a sign of what was to come. For all the hysterical noise Turkey made, some of it on the pitch, they were all too easily quietened.

Portugal imposed order on Turkish chaos. That partly comes from Martinez, with much of it around Ronaldo.

It is very finely tuned up to that point. This is why they are rightly being talked about as potential champions and maybe even the best team in the tournament, although there are now a few contenders for that.

It makes for an enticing knockout stage. Will Ronaldo start? That is a big question and may decide a lot.

Everything behind him works so well. Portugal have a defence that is so hard to get at, with Vitinha then so smoothly spraying the ball around. His first pass up, drilled along the ground, was gorgeous. From there, an attack that is really in their prime are purring. It was symbolic that both Bernardo Silva and Fernandes scored, as the new leaders of the team. In between, Samet Akaydin scored a calamitous own goal, with a no-look pass to a goalkeeper who had moved away from his starting position. That was the game there.

A generous description was that Ronaldo’s presence pressured them into it, but it looked a simple – if comical – error.

Bernardo Silva celebrates his opener for Portugal
Bernardo Silva celebrates his opener for Portugal (AFP)

It sums up that sense of a game happening around Ronaldo now. He is largely stationary as everyone else in the Portuguese side moves so fluently. And while Martinez might well point to Ronaldo’s goalscoring record in qualifying, this is now his longest run without a goal in an international tournament.

Even the main reason he’s there, offering a focal point for those headers, didn’t really work out. Ronaldo’s one opportunity from a cross saw him strangely miscue the ball back towards the penalty spot.

The Ronaldo of a few years ago would surely have buried it. If it feels wrong to be focusing on the famous man when Portugal have such a superb team, it is relevant to what they can do.

Here, they just had too much quality for Turkey, with the captain even complementing the collective with some productive individual moments.

It’s just a wonder whether that is going to be enough in the knockouts, where Martinez might have to make an even harder decision than keeping Ronaldo in after 2022.

Samet Akaydin scores a calamitous own goal
Samet Akaydin scores a calamitous own goal (Reuters)

It did help here that Turkey themselves were so dependent on individual moments. They have good players, but so little structure, with that compounded by Arda Guler’s injury.

As it was, almost every Turkish attack was one of their forwards just looking to barrel up the pitch with unfocused runs. They’d gain same yardage, only for Portugal to claim even more yardage back by just winning the ball and getting upfield. They weren’t threatened other than an initial five-minute flurry, as Turkey were emboldened by the atmosphere.

That’s almost the place of the team right now, though. They are an occasion to be experienced rather than a coherent team to be faced. There is something there, as we saw with that 3-1 win over Georgia, but it needs work.

They may get the opportunity for it, as the earlier 1-1 draw between Georgia and Czech Republic gives Turkey a huge chance for a first knockout appearance since Euro 2008. The hope is we see much more of Guler.

Ronaldo the influencer? Striker is still the most popular player with the fans
Ronaldo the influencer? Striker is still the most popular player with the fans (Reuters)

As for Ronaldo, the cameras and reports like this will remain focused on him. How can’t they be? If a Turkey match is an occasion to be experienced, Ronaldo is almost this publicity tour. That was summed up when a small child ran onto the pitch at 3-0 to get a selfie with his hero. He successfully managed both that and to evade four stewards, to the delight of the crowd.

That was understandable for a child, but there were also four more pitch invaders attempting to do the same, and they got older each time. Even Ronaldo irritatedly ushered one away at the final whistle, as if fed up of what this had become. He was trying to play football.

In the stands, Ronaldo’s party were in the executive box directly behind the media, to the delight of photographers. His girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez, sat absolutely impassively as Ronaldo shockingly passed the ball for the moment that won the game.

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