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Commentary

Ronaldo no longer the force he once was

The Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2016 is a force on the wane.

A three-time World Player of the Year, the headline act for Portugal is entering the zone marked high-end functional footballer, as with each outing the dazzling performer recedes in the distance.

At 31, this is understandable. Unlike England's 1966 World Cup triumph, a sonnet by Shakespeare or a Burgundy grand cru, elite athletes do not age well.

Ronaldo's spluttering stop-start display in Saturday's goalless draw with Austria was the latest evidence. As a presence, the Portuguese, with his matinee idol grin and physique, remains the numero uno, le grand fromage.

In this regard the modest demeanour and for-the-team-first ethos of Lionel Messi is a pale shadow of the man from Madeira.

But Messi remains the central figure in games because of his play rather than his reputation and sideshow antics. The Argentinian still demands the ball in all areas because the first thought is: "I can hurt the opposition from anywhere."

When Ronaldo did  finally become a factor against Austria to win Portugal an 80th-minute penalty, converting  this one proved  beyond him.

This was once the Ronaldo way. Not any more. His is now the safer sentiment of: "My moment must be chosen carefully."

Austria may be the 10th-ranked nation in the world but would a defence of Florian Klein, Sebastian Prodl, Lukas Hinteregger and Christian Fuchs really have stymied the powers of a 21-, 25- or 28-year-old Ronaldo?

Because this is what Marcel Koller's back four did at a canter on Saturday.

There was a wait to see if Ronaldo would drop deep from the No. 9 position in which Fernando Santos fielded him, in an attempt to pull the match around, but he stayed in the same role for the full 90 minutes.

For Manchester United and then Real Madrid, Ronaldo was never passive. He was a fearless bucking bronco of a forward who with ease and great delight tore through teams at will to ensure their challenge became one of mere damage limitation.

In Real's scruffy 1-0 Champions League semi-final win over Manchester City last month, Ronaldo was peripheral.

In the San Siro showdown with Atletico Madrid that ended in a penalty shoot-out victory and an 11th European Cup for Real, Ronaldo was peripheral.

Well, he was until the lottery of the spot-kicks.

For the decisive penalty, up stepped Ronaldo to give Jan Oblak no chance with a bullet that beat Atletico's goalkeeper to his left.

Yet, when Ronaldo did finally become a factor against Austria to win Portugal an 80th-minute penalty, converting this one proved beyond him.

Now was the time for the No. 7 to mark his record 128th cap by grabbing the glory with a late winner.

But the manner in which the effort came off Robert Almer's right post and went safe was a neat precis of where Ronaldo now is: Still riveting to watch but not the universe-beater in days of yore.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Ronaldo no longer the force he once was'. Print Edition | Subscribe