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Portugal's overdependence on Cristiano Ronaldo proved detrimental.

In Hamburg, Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo stood among his teammates at the end of the match, his usual aura of invincibility momentarily faded. Rúben Dias and Nuno Mendes, who had admirably contained France's Kylian Mbappé, joined in the applause. Ronaldo, too, embraced his longtime companion Pepe, who was emotional in what may be his final curtain call at 41 years old. As Ronaldo consoled him, he appeared less the iconic superstar and more a unified teammate sharing in collective disappointment.


Yet, perhaps if Portugal manager Roberto Martinez had recognized this earlier, the narrative might have been different. Throughout the tournament, Martinez persistently fielded Ronaldo in every minute of nearly every game, save for a brief rest against Georgia. It seemed Martinez was more intent on providing Ronaldo every opportunity to add another illustrious chapter to his career than on optimizing Portugal's chances of success.


The statistics tell a stark story: Ronaldo attempted 23 shots in the tournament, the second-most by any player failing to score in the Euros since the introduction of the group stage format in 1980. His expected goals of 3.51 without finding the net are unprecedented in major men's tournaments since 1980.


Martinez may have been banking on Ronaldo's track record of scoring in every major tournament he's played—five World Cups and five Euros—believing he was due for a breakthrough. Yet, relying on historical achievements proved futile, akin to betting on underdogs based solely on overdue potential.


Despite adapting the team's tactics to maximize Ronaldo's strengths and mitigate his weaknesses, Martinez may have overlooked the toll Ronaldo's limited mobility took on midfield dynamics and missed scoring opportunities. There were moments in crucial stages when Ronaldo's age showed; he missed chances that a younger Ronaldo would have effortlessly converted.


Curiously, Martinez's predecessor Fernando Santos had previously benched Ronaldo during the knockout rounds of the Qatar World Cup, acknowledging the physical demands despite their longstanding partnership and successes together. Martinez, however, seemed entranced by Ronaldo's aura and his own mission to showcase him on the grand stage.


Questions linger whether Martinez trusted alternative talents like Gonçalo Ramos or Diogo Jota to relieve Ronaldo, even momentarily. Was there a subconscious desire for Ronaldo to redeem earlier missed opportunities, further clouding strategic judgment?


Ultimately, Portugal's exit from the Euros cannot be solely attributed to Ronaldo's fatigue from playing full 120-minute matches. They faltered in converting numerous scoring chances throughout the tournament, including critical moments against France.

Yet, Martinez's single-minded focus on Ronaldo's role as the savior of Portugal's campaign leaves a bitter aftertaste. Ronaldo's legacy as one of football's greats is secure and transcends any single tournament. If Martinez had recognized Ronaldo as just another integral part of the team sooner—like in their final moments, acknowledging fans and consoling teammates—Portugal's Euros journey might have ended differently.

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