Portugal vs. Spain: In Defense of Cristiano Ronaldo

In the aftermath of Portugal’s heart-breaking penalty shootout loss to Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo’s decision to save himself for his team’s fifth penalty was heavily criticized. Because of Bruno Alves’ miss, Ronaldo never got to take a penalty, and many went so far as to blame his team’s loss on his supposed “selfishness” in wanting to take what could’ve possibly been the game-winning penalty.

Here are just a couple of tweets in the Twitterverse criticizing Ronaldo after the game:

It has since been revealed by Cristiano Ronaldo that the decision to take the fifth penalty was a joint decision, and that Paulo Bento had asked him to take the fifth penalty, not the other way around.

But let’s stop and think about it for a second. Aren’t we used to applauding players for stepping up to take the biggest shot? In basketball, aren’t guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant applauded when they take the winning shot, and criticized when they don’t? Why then is there a double standard for Cristiano Ronaldo?

You might say that there are different standards in football, but are there really? Many of football’s biggest players have made similar decisions:

  1. In the 2012 Champions League final, Didier Drogba took the fifth and final penalty against Bayern Munich, winning the game for Chelsea.
  2. In the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Drogba took the fifth penalty in the penalty shootout with Zambia. His team would go on to lose, but he effectively made the same decision as Ronaldo to take what would’ve normally been the winning (and highest pressure) penalty.
  3. Also in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Seydou Keita took the fifth and winning penalty in the quarterfinals penalty shootout  against Gabon.
  4. In World Cup 2006, Cristiano Ronaldo saved himself for fifth penalty in the shootout against England. In that shootout, Ronaldo’s penalty won Portugal the game and took them into the semifinals.
  5. In the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations,  Nwankwo Kanu, then Nigeria’s best player, took the winning penalty against Tunisia in the quarterfinals.
  6. Also in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Drogba took the 12th penalty and final penalty of the game, winning the quarterfinal against Cameroon.
  7. Finally, once again in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Mohamed Aboutreika, then Egypt’s best player, stepped up to take Egypt’s fifth and final penalty against the Ivory Coast, winning the game and securing the title for his country.

Was Cristiano Ronaldo right or wrong to defer his penalty? Photo Credit: Skysports.com

And this list is just a list of the players who waited to take their penalty late in the penalty shootout and eventually did. There are many more who waited to take their penalty and never did, like Steven Gerrard in the 2005 Champions League final.

The point of this list isn’t to say that it is better to take your penalty later in the shootout than earlier as a big-time player. The first penalty is often the most nerve-racking, and there have been numerous scenarios when a team’s best player has taken the first penalty to get his teammates over their nerves and lead the charge to victory.

The point is to show that in all the scenarios above, the players above were heralded as heroes. They were all applauded for their decision to stay patient and take the last penalty of the game. Why is Ronaldo criticized for following their line of reasoning?

In hindsight, it would’ve been better for Cristiano Ronaldo to step up in place of Bruno Alves to take Portugal’s fourth penalty. If he’d converted it, who knows what would’ve happened; Portugal may have still lost, or Patricio may have made another crucial save to win Portugal the game.

But as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and Bruno Alves had already been selected by Portugal’s manager as the fourth penalty kick taker. Right or not, it was a decision made by Paulo Bento, and a decision Ronaldo, as a player, was right to respect.

Ultimately, Ronaldo’s decision was hardly cowardly. It was a joint decision made with his coach, and a decision that numerous great players have made in the past, and were applauded for. Some of the criticism that Ronaldo has received in the past for his ego and selfishness, both on and off the pitch, has been justified. In this case though, it is blatantly unfair.

7 comments for “Portugal vs. Spain: In Defense of Cristiano Ronaldo

  1. June 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Ronaldo has his character, Balotelli has his, you cannot change any of em and to be honest the game will be boring if that happens. The characters suit em.

    Ronaldo is criticized alot, and the worst part, every time his team loses, only he is blamed. Why dont they remember that every time his team wins, its thanks to his class. Portugal were in the last 4 thanks to him.

    As for Penalty shootout, anything can happen, the biggest of players have missed. The only fair blame can be abut the chances Ronaldo missed. Blaming for the 5th penalty is bizzare

    • Mohamed Al-Hendy
      June 27, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      Agreed. But there was so much criticism on twitter afterwards, it was ridiculous. It’s bad enough that he had to deal with the fact that he never got a chance in the penalty shoot-out, but to have to deal with all the undeserved criticism…ridiculous really.

    • June 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Great point, but I think you touched on something that makes his unfair criticism sort of justified.

      You said: “Why dont they remember that every time his team wins, its thanks to his class.”

      That’s definitely not true at all. Whether at Real Madrid or Portugal, Ronaldo has loads of talent supporting him and is not solely responsible for either team’s success.

      The point I’m getting at is that his fans will go too far in praising him and his ‘enemies’ will go too far in criticizing him. He does not deserve all of the criticism for his team losing. But he definitely doesn’t deserve all the praise for his team winning either.

      The same happens with Messi. In this day and age, forwards get far too much of both than they deserve.

  2. June 28, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Great article, Mohamed. I think some people just want to find reasons to criticize Ronaldo.

    He definitely deserves criticism for his performance in the match. He missed a few chances, one glorious chance, and didn’t have a shot on goal. He was shut down by an inferior right back that had less cover than was anticipated. Ronaldo’s Euro 2012 was one where he only did well against an awful Dutch defense and a far inferior Czech side.

    But the penalties are not at all his fault. It is very unfair that most people will remember CR7 not taking a penalty, but will soon forget which TWO players missed penalties to prevent him from having a chance. That’s why I say some people just WANT to dislike him and they’ll use any excuse to do so. Very unfair in my opinion.

    I’m glad you put this piece out there.

  3. Matthew Buening
    June 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Agreed 100%. Ronaldo is just getting way too much flak for this.

    There are basically two ways that coaches line-up Penalty shoot-outs. You either have your most clutch player go first or they go fifth. That’s why Schweinsteiger took a late penalty in the Champions League final, because he is normally a very clutch player in the PK area. (It’s also why Drogba took the last one for Chelsea. OK, I’m done talking about this now it still hurts.)

    There was confusion when Alves stepped up because it was actually Nani’s turn to go. The order was decided by the coach. Mountinho went first probably because Bento coached him for four years. (I think that’s how long it was.)

    Now I would have put Ronaldo first, but it was the coach’s decision and Ronaldo is getting criticized for the coaches decision. What about the players who missed the other two penalties? Forgotten.

    I’m hardly CR7′s biggest fan, but I can’t throw the blame on him here. Good piece Mohamed.

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