Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo has star-studded support cast to help him write perfect ending

Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo has star-studded support cast to help him write perfect ending

Cristiano Ronaldo insists Euro 2024 is "merely a chapter" in his glittering career. But, at 39, his story is undoubtedly coming to an end and he will be desperate to ensure it has a dream denouement.

While Ronaldo has not ruled out playing at the 2026 World Cup, when he will be 41, this could be his final major tournament, and bowing out like his long-term adversary Lionel Messi would be the perfect send-off.

Messi captained Argentina to World Cup glory at the end of what was a disastrous tournament for Ronaldo in Qatar.

Without a club after his Manchester United exit was confirmed in the build-up, he lost his place in the Portugal team and they were eventually dumped out by Morocco in the quarter-finals, when Ronaldo left in tears.

Cristiano Ronaldo in tears after Portugal’s 2022 World Cup exit (AP)
Cristiano Ronaldo in tears after Portugal’s 2022 World Cup exit (AP)

The build-up this time has been better for Ronaldo, who comes into the tournament having scored 35 goals in the Saudi Pro League this season.

Only Romelu Lukaku scored more goals during Euros qualifying and Ronaldo was on target twice for Portugal in their final warm-up game, against Ireland, last week.

The heavily fancied Portuguese kick-off on Tuesday night when they face the Czech Republic, and Ronaldo will make history by becoming in the first player to feature at six Euros.

"I'm thrilled about it, as it shows the longevity of my career," he said. "However, it's merely a chapter in what Cristiano Ronaldo has achieved in football.

"I think I am a complete player, but there are always things I can perfect. And, with age, there are things we weren't so good at in the past, and we start losing some abilities, so it's important to try and adapt.

"That's the key word. If a player wants to have longevity, they need to have a strong adaptability and the characteristics for that adaptation. That's what I tried to do."

Portugal, the Euro 2016 champions, won all 10 games during qualifying under Roberto Martinez, scoring 36 goals and conceding just two.

Martinez flew to Saudi Arabia soon after he was hired following the World Cup and has struck up a good relationship with Ronaldo, who plays as the No9 and benefits from the abundance of creative ability around him.

Ronaldo may be the star, but the Portugal team is stacked with talent — and the challenge for Martinez is getting the best out Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix.

There are few squads in Germany with the depth of Portugal, who also have a nice blend of experience and youth.

Ronaldo is not even the oldest player in the squad, with 41-year-old centre-back Pepe leading the defence.

The likes of 19-year-old Benfica midfielder Joao Neves, linked with a big-money summer move to a top European club, help create a nice blend.

"I hope this national team will win, because it's an incredibly talented squad," Ronaldo said. "As we all know, though, talent alone is not enough to win. There are many things that go into winning a major tournament like this one.

"We have all the ingredients to win it, but we'll take it one step at a time, game by game, all the while believing that we can win it. What we achieved in 2016 was historic, both in Portuguese football and world football.

"Now we have our feet firmly on the ground, but our mind up in the sky to look up and see that it is possible to win the Euros."