Portugal's first two Euro 2012 games brought back Cristiano Ronaldo at his most irritable: a man obsessed with Lionel Messi, who hesitates in front of goal and prefers not to celebrate with his teammates.
Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Denmark dealt a tough blow to the superstar's ego: he failed to score from two clear chances in front of the Danish 'keeper, while the hero of the day turned out to be the little-known substitute, Silvestre Varela, who scored the winner just minutes from time.
Apart from that, the Real Madrid winger was again tortured with shouts of “Messi, Messi” from Danish fans. And instead of showing them that references to his nemesis do not get at him, Ronaldo amplified them.
“This time last year Messi had been eliminated from the Copa America and (Argentina) was playing at home. That's worse, isn't it?” he said after Wednesday's game.
Argentine sports daily Ole was quick to comment. “Cristiano Ronaldo's thing is by now karma. Beyond the heated answer on the spot, Cristiano was misinformed: Argentina were eliminated in the quarterfinals, against Uruguay,” Ole wrote.
Another Argentine daily Clarin picked him up on the same issue. “The Portuguese again criticised ‘the Flea', and on top of that he was mistaken,” Clarin said, using Messi's nickname.
It described Messi as “Cristiano's obsession” and highlighted the fact that “Portugal have yet to qualify” for the second round.
Ronaldo arrived at the Euro with a double challenge: he wanted to lead his national team to new heights and brace his own credentials as FIFA World Player-of-the-Year after a great season with Real Madrid, during which he won the La Liga title and scored 59 goals.
However, it all got off to a bad start with a poor performance from Ronaldo in the initial 1-0 defeat to Germany. On the same day, on the other side of the ocean, Messi scored a spectacular hat-trick in Argentina's 4-3 win over Brazil in a friendly. “Messi is on wheels,” said Gonzalo Higuain, Ronaldo's teammate at Real Madrid and Messi's with Argentina.
While Ronaldo has appeared to have got over the kind of attitudes that drew him apart from the rest of his Real Madrid team, they seem to have resurfaced at the Euro. Now, whenever he kicks the ball badly, he gets mad at the grass. He visibly scolds his teammates when they fail to pass him the ball.
And he does not celebrate his team's goals, as happened against Denmark, even if that final goal may have put Portugal through to the quarterfinals.
Varela, however, came out in defence of Ronaldo. “Cristiano is an excellent player and captain. He doesn't have anything to prove,” Varela said.