The 120-minute long Euro 2012 semifinal match between Spain and Portugal was roughly equivalent to watching someone slowly get a needle jabbed in their eye while a stadium full of spectators quietly did the wave to keep themselves distracted. But the shootout that followed managed to be even more unfulfilling, leaving a large void -- more specifically a Ronaldo-sized void -- than everything that preceded it.
Whether it was Portugal manager Paulo Bento overthinking the shooting order or Cristiano Ronaldo trying to position himself just right for maximum spotlight/glory/attention saturation, the result was one of the world's best footballers missing out on the chance to take a shot at preventing Spain from reaching a third straight major tournament final. Because the game ended before it was his turn.
Xabi Alonso and Joao Moutinho failed to score with the opening shots for their respective sides to carry on the theme of this never-ending match and lead one to believe that the ball boys would have a go before everyone could finally return to their hotels. But then both sides found a rhythm -- Andres Iniesta, Pepe, Gerard Pique and Nani, who told Bruno Alves to step away from the ball at the last minute, all made their shots. Even Sergio Ramos, who blasted one well over the bar in Real Madrid's Champions League semifinal loss to Bayern Munich two months ago, succeeded with the ballsy choice to chip the Portuguese keeper. Finally, Bruno Alves took his shot before he could be turned away again and he pounded it off the crossbar. Cesc Fabregas, once again, finished it off for Spain and Ronaldo could only stand there and watch, shaking his head and muttering about "injustice" in disbelief (gif here).
Now, before going any further, it's worth noting that there was precedent for this. In Portugal's 2006 World Cup quarterfinal shootout against England, Ronaldo took the fifth and final penalty to put his side in the semifinals. He also had a penalty saved when he took a turn earlier in the order in that same Champions League semifinal two months ago that Sergio Ramos missed his, so simply having him take one was hardly a guaranteed route to success.
But it was a gamble holding him back that long then and it was another gamble now. This time, it backfired and that will be most painful for Cristiano, who wanted just a little bit more to really shut up his detractors and strengthen his case for this year's Ballon d'Or by taking his country to final. He took seven of his team's 11 shots during the match and exactly none of them were on target.
And so the lasting image of this match won't be the 120 minutes of impotent play, nor Sergio Ramos' Panenka or Fabregas' winner. Just Ronaldo standing in the middle of the pitch, shorts yanked up and hands on his hips, still waiting to fulfill his fantasy.
UPDATE: Bento confirms that having Ronaldo at fifth in the order was the plan all along. From the AFP:
"If it had been 4-4 and he had taken the last penalty, we'd be talking in a different way. It's about strategy and we'd defined that before," said Bento.
Ronaldo was phlegmatic about the defeat, though, the disappointment was etched all over his face.
"We didn't lack for conviction but we were unlucky. That's penalties for you," said Ronaldo, who not for the first time this tournament had opposing fans chanting the name of his great rival in La Liga 'Messi! Messi!'
Planning out your order on the contingency that it will be 4-4 going into the final round of kicks is more than a bit presumptuous. So why not adjust when it became clear that that wasn't going to be the situation?
Anyway, at least Ronaldo won't have to hear those Messi chants for a few weeks.