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Cristiano Ronaldo’s International Legacy


Cristiano Ronaldo’s International Legacy

A boy from Madeira with the world and a ball at his feet, who grew up to be a footballing god that is worshipped, idolised, and loved by so many. Cristiano Ronaldo has completed football entirely at club level, with only a World Cup trophy evading his never-ending list of honours. After a sour period In his illustrious career, what does CR7’s international legacy look like?

Before International success

Nine days after signing for Manchester United in 2003, an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo made his international debut for Portugal in a 1-0 victory over Kazakhstan. The then-inexperienced winger replaced Portugal’s number 7, Luis Figo, at half time which is quite a fitting entrance.

The 2004 European Championships hosted by Portugal was just around the corner and Cristiano had earned his place in the squad, justifying his inclusion on the pitch for his nation. Luiz Felipe Scolari gave Ronaldo huge responsibilities, successfully fulfilling the manager's expectations. The winger played an important role in Portugal’s journey to the final, yet they fell short at the final hurdle with a 1-0 defeat to Greece. The Manchester United star registered two goals and two assists in his first competitive international tournament, also finding his way into the Team Of The Tournament.

By the time the 2006 World cup arrived, Cristiano had developed into one of the most exciting attackers in the world. This was his first World Cup at 21 years of age, but he wasn’t just in the spotlight on the pitch. The media were particularly interested in Ronaldo, especially after his famous wink following Wayne Rooney’s red card in the quarter-finals. Portugal reached the semi-finals but were sent home after a 1-0 loss to France, with Ronaldo scoring one goal in the tournament against Iran in the group stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

Ronaldo was handed the number 7 shirt ahead of the 2008 Euros, but his nation were knocked out by Germany in the quarter-finals. In the year of his first Ballon d’Or, he only managed to score once in the tournament for a second consecutive international competition. Although, he was given the captain’s armband on a permanent basis after the disappointing display.

South Africa hosted the next World Cup in 2010, with Cristiano now established as one of the world’s finest at Real Madrid. He backed up his status with man-of-the-match performances in each group stage game, even though he only scored once. Portugal progressed through the group but were defeated by eventual champions Spain in the round of 16.

A Portugal side with Ronaldo guiding the way looked set to challenge for his first international trophy, until they faced noisy neighbours Spain once again in the semi-finals. The tie went to a penalty shootout, where Spain got the better of their opponents. The Real Madrid icon scored three goals at the tournament and was included in the Team Of The Tournament for the second time.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil will seem like a missed opportunity for Ronaldo, as he played through injury to captain his nation. He entered the tournament as Portugal’s all-time top scorer, a record previously held by Pauleta. However, Portugal didn’t make it out of the group stage, making Ronaldo’s dream of World Cup triumph live a little longer.

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal Real Madrid World Cup 2018
Cristiano Ronaldo's opening game hattrick temporarily fired him to being World Cup Top Scorer

Euro 2016

Ronaldo and Portugal made it out of the group stage at the 2016 European Championships, drawing all three games and looking far from convincing. Portugal were by far the favourites to top their group, with many experts expecting them to breeze into the knockouts. Yet they finished in third place behind Hungary and Iceland, with new rules meaning they did just enough to progress on three points. Their final group game against Hungary is an international classic with Ronaldo saving his side twice in a 3-3 draw, having gone behind on three occasions in the game.

Portugal then progressed to the final, beating Croatia, Poland, and Wales along the way. Cristiano Ronaldo was quiet for his standards in the first two games but he lit the stage on fire with a goal and an assist in the semi-final against Wales.

Host nation France faced Portugal in the final, but tragedy struck in the 25th minute when Ronaldo was injured and had to be substituted, leaving the pitch in tears. Regardless of his injury, their captain took on a managerial role on the touchline for the next 90 minutes, motivating his side which paid off as substitute Eder fired home from range. Cristiano Ronaldo had won an international trophy for the first time, only playing 20 minutes in the final.

Post Euro 2016 Victory

Following the recent success, the Portuguese squad were hopeful of challenging for the World Cup in Russia two years later. Their opening game was against Spain, where Cristiano Ronaldo shocked the world with a sublime free-kick which made the score 3-3 and completed his hat-trick, making him the oldest player to score a hat-trick at a World Cup. Portugal progressed through the group In second place but were defeated by an Edinson Cavani double in the round of 16, losing 2-1 to Uruguay.

A second international trophy was won a year later, in the recently created Nations League. Cristiano Ronaldo only played in the finals, but his performance in the semi-final was magnificent as he scored a hat-trick against Switzerland which helped his side progress. Portugal won the tournament by defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in the final.

Ronaldo became all-time international top goal scorer during the 2021 Euros. He scored five goals at the Championships and won the Golden Boot, however, Portugal were unable to make it past the round of 16 again after a 1-0 loss to Belgium.

The present & the Future

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was seen as the last dance for Ronaldo and the last opportunity for a World Cup victory. He started the world cup with a goal from the penalty spot against Ghana, however, his performance was far from impressive. Coach Fernando Santos stuck by Ronaldo for the next game against Uruguay, yet a similar scenario occurred. With Portugal already through the group stages, Santos made multiple changes to rest his star men but Ronaldo still kept his place in the side. He was subbed off in the 65th minute and proceeded to complain about his manager’s decision.

Following his actions, Ronaldo found himself on the bench for the round of 16 game against Switzerland. Portugal ran out 6-1 winners that evening, with CR7’s replacement Goncalo Ramos scoring a hat-trick.

The Benfica striker maintained his place in the starting XI for the quarter-final game against Morocco, with Ronaldo only being used as a second-half substitute. The game concluded with a 1-0 Victory to Morocco, which saw Ronaldo run down the tunnel in tears following his nation’s exit. A very sad and bitter end after years of devotion to his nation.

At 37 years old, this may have been his last chance to win a World Cup in his playing career. Ronaldo is now also without a club after being released by Manchester United following a controversial interview with Piers Morgan, and there is no guarantee that he will remain within Europe’s top five leagues after the World cup.

Ronaldo’s winning mentality and self-belief has played a significant role in making him one of the best players of all time, however, many believe that has caused him issues over the last six months as he is no longer performing to the standards that he sets himself. It could technically be classed as denial and many do feel sorry for him, but a club will not look to sign him for his recent performances.

His International Legacy is that of a legend and will be classed as Portugal’s best-ever player by many. People question the fact he has not scored in a World cup knockout game in his career, but to be the highest international goal scorer of all time should outweigh many arguments thrown his way.

Ronaldo’s recent actions should not affect his legacy and he should be remembered for his ability on the field; however, his actions will be tough to look past in the short term future, especially for Manchester United fans and some of the Portuguese population.