An epic choke in front of goal from Cristiano Ronaldo was forgiven on Wednesday as the world's most expensive player's blushes were spared by a teammate who cost absolutely nothing.
Ronaldo, who Real Madrid bought from Manchester United in 2009 for a world record $131 million transfer fee, could not disguise his disbelief as he missed the simplest of chances when completely unmarked just a few yards from the net in Portugal's crucial Euro 2012 clash with Denmark.
When Portugal, having already lost its first game to Germany, conceded a goal just moments later to level scores at 2-2, the team – captained by Ronaldo – was in danger of being pushed to the brink of elimination.
However, with just three minutes remaining in this Group B contest in Lviv, Ukraine, forward Silvestre Varela unleashed a ferocious strike to provide one of the goals of the tournament so far and a much-needed lifeline for Portugal, the world's fifth-ranked team.
Varela has long been regarded as a promising young player but has had a checkered career and has bounced around six different clubs. When he was transferred to Portuguese league club Porto in 2009 from Estrela Amadora, no fee changed hands.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has accumulated tens of millions in wages and established himself, alongside Lionel Messi, as one of the two best players in the world. If another team wanted to buy Ronaldo out of his Real Madrid contract, the price would be a staggering $1.25 billion.
He will find it hard to live down his performance on Wednesday, though, especially the moment in the 78th minute that was the low point of his afternoon. Ronaldo was sent completely clear on goal with only Stefan Anderson to beat. As the Denmark goalkeeper went to the ground, all Ronaldo had to do was dribble the ball around him and tap it into the empty net. Instead, he inexplicably booted it with his right foot and steered it wide of the target.
Portugal had gone into a two-goal lead in the first half thanks to goals from Pepe and Helder Postiga, before Niklas Bendtner pulled one back for Denmark just before the break. Bendtner struck again with a headed goal almost immediately after Ronaldo's dreadful miss, aided by some poor goalkeeping from Portugal's Rui Patricio.
A draw would have done Portugal little good and left it needing to beat the Netherlands in its final match to stand any chance of progressing to the quarterfinals. Varela's stunning drive changed all that, as the 27-year-old, who had only been on the field for three minutes after coming on a substitute, first whiffed on a cross from the left before recovering his composure exquisitely and smashing home a right-footed effort that left Anderson with no chance.
Victory for Portugal over the Netherlands, who are struggling to match their performance in reaching the 2010 World Cup final, should be enough to secure a place in the last eight, depending on how Denmark performs against Germany.
Yet Ronaldo's displays will continue to come under scrutiny, especially with that uncharacteristic missed chance certain to be replayed time and again over the next few days.
"We should have killed the game off earlier," Portugal coach Paulo Bento grumbled. "We had enough chances."
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