Cristiano Ronaldo made a strong case for himself Thursday as the tournament 's most valuable player, lifting Portugal on to his shoulders and leading his side into the semifinals with a game-winning header that sent the Czech Republic home.
Ronaldo was the best player on the field by miles, and if he had the support up top he enjoys at Real Madrid , this game would not have been close. But Portugal's weakness remains the lack of a pure striker, and the Czechs have shown future opponents that you can stifle the great man -- but you need to do far more to shut him down completely.
What Ronaldo has shown off in these past two games is the marriage of hard work and pure clinical skill. Time after time Thursday, he ran the overlaps and opened up the lanes, only to see his less efficient -- and surely less forward-thinking -- teammates blow the opportunity.
His expressions of frustration, of fatigue, of sheer exasperation at his supporting cast's inability to think the way he does will be held up as examples of his petulance. In fact, they are the reactions of a man who simply cannot comprehend how other players do not see the game the way he does. As was the case with Michael Jordan when he was surrounded by lugs such as Luc Longley, Ronaldo's mind moves at a different rate.
Ronaldo clearly is stung by the thought that he is not a member of soccer's elite pantheon. He believes he should be mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Messi, Zidane and Cantona -- and sincerely seems baffled that he is not. His talents are as much a product of hard work as innate gifts, and yet all people seem to focus on is his early career as a flopper, not his late renaissance as one of the most blissfully accurate scorers ever to play the game.