Sub-par Ronaldo still making an impact

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Maximum points, five goals scored and a virtually guaranteed ticket to the quarterfinals.

Imagine what Portugal can do when Cristiano Ronaldo actually starts playing to his potential?

The concept of "playing well" is, of course, both relative and subjective. In comparison to mere mortals and most players in the tournament, Ronaldo's display in his side's 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic was dazzling and turned the contest in Portugal's favor.

However, this is a man who at the age of 23 is already judged alongside some of football's all-time greats. And though he set up two goals and scored another, was it one of his finest performances? Not by a long shot.

And there lies the magic of Ronaldo, highlighting why he is the most effective, most dangerous and simply the best player on the planet right now.

The Czech Republic did little wrong. They did their best to restrict the Manchester United winger and cut down his passing channels, and they used a hard-nosed but relatively fair approach that let him know he was in for a tough night without provoking referee Kyros Vassaras.

Czech head coach Karel Bruckner admitted his team had an approach centered on stifling Ronaldo, but Bruckner was unable to find too much fault with how his players had gone about their business.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is a very dangerous weapon and could be the best player in this tournament, but Portugal are not just about Ronaldo," Brueckner said. "They have many brilliant individuals."

For much of the game, Ronaldo was unable to get anything meaningful going. His jinking runs often ran into a brick wall of three, four or five Czech defenders. His free kicks were mainly on target but not sufficiently pinpoint to stress goalkeeper Petr Cech. And the referee Vassaras was not in the mood to be duped into giving any soft free kicks when Ronaldo went to ground.

However, Ronaldo never ceased striving and probing and looking for ways to torment. He was prepared to smash his head against a brick wall for as long as it took for the mortar to crack, which it finally did.

The second goal, which effectively broke the Czech resistance, was a fine finish but was set up because Ronaldo reacted quickest to a ball into the box seconds earlier – enabling Deco to flick it back into his path.

"We created a lot of chances and played as a unit," Ronaldo said. "If we keep on playing like that, we've got a good chance of doing well in this tournament."

For the second match in succession, Portugal captain Nuno Gomes made a symbolic gesture when he was substituted in the second half. Before leaving the field, he paused to peel off his skipper's armband and carefully wrapped it around Ronaldo's arm himself, instead of simply handing it to him as is the norm.

"He is a very special player and important for us," Gomes said. "But what makes him so important is his maturity. He realizes he is just one man in a team and that the team comes before everything."

A sign of that maturity was how Ronaldo laid off the ball for Ricardo Quaresma to slide home the third goal instead of looking to add to his own tally.

"Sometimes it is about making a sacrifice for the team," said Ronaldo, who dedicated his goal and 5,000 pounds to the Red Cross. "People can say what they like but this is a team game, and I will sacrifice anything for my team."

"Cristiano worked hard," Portugal head coach Luis Felipe Scolari said. "He will sleep well tonight."

Portugal's forthcoming opponents may not.

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