European title victory alters perception of Cristiano Ronaldo

Before Euro 2016 got underway, there were already many adjectives that suited Cristiano Ronaldo.

Some positive, like talented, transcendent or best in the world. Others, less so — diva, diver or selfish.

Following Portugal’s stunning 1-0 win over France in the final, it might be time to update those lists.

Before that historic day, however, Ronaldo showed his mettle as the captain of his country, encouraging Joao Moutinho to take a penalty in the shootout against Poland.

Moutinho, Ronaldo and every other Portuguese player made their spot kicks, and Portugal advanced.

It was in the final, though, where the Real Madrid standout showed his true mettle as his country’s talisman.

He tried to stay on after a crunching tackle from Dmitri Payet in the eighth minute left him with a knee sprain, but was finally stretchered off 17 minutes later with tears streaming down his face.

While we didn’t see him near the pitch again until the second half, he was in the locker room offering support at half time.

“For me and the team, everybody was a little bit in shock,” Cedric Soares said. “But at half-time, Cristiano had fantastic words for us. He gave us a lot of confidence. He said ‘listen people, I am sure we will win. So stay together and fight for it.’ He was fantastic, his attitude was unbelievable.”

The later it got, the more involved he was. With his knee wrapped, Ronaldo stalked the touch line and technical area to cheer on his teammates. At the end of regulation, he met his countrymen and offered hugs and words of encouragement.

Apparently, he also had a few words for Eder before he was subbed on in the 79th minute.

“(Ronaldo) told me I would score the winning goal for the team,” he told Portuguese newspaper O Jogo. “He gave me this strength, this energy and it was vital.”

Ronaldo is forever linked with his rival, Lionel Messi. The two compete for Ballon d’Or honors, La Liga titles and Champions League trophies. And both men look to stake their claim as one of the best ever to play the game.

Before this summer, neither man had ever won a trophy for his country. Messi had a quiet Copa America as Argentina fell in its third-straight final (2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America).

In the aftermath of that tournament, Messi announced his retirement from national team duty for Argentina. He has since backed off that statement a bit, but it was not the sort of response Argentines were looking for.

While it’s tough to separate Ronaldo and Messi as players, Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph has made it easy to see which man is the better captain for his country.

As the years pass, Portugal’s defense-first tactics under Fernando Santos will be forgotten. The fact that the Portuguese finished third in Group F and needed spot kicks to get past Switzerland and Poland in the knockout phase won’t matter, either.

It’s Ronaldo’s early exit, his cheering for his teammates and Eder’s fabulous goal that will serve as the lasting memories.

And in so doing, Ronaldo added leader, captain and winner to his superlatives.

About Randy Capps

South Carolina native, Fulham apologist, writer and sports fanatic.