LISBON – If Cristiano Ronaldo can carry over the goalscoring prowess he has shown all campaign with Real Madrid into Euro 2012, Portugal fans can realistically hope that their side will escape from a tough group.
Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark — all three former champions — came out of the hat to join the Iberians in Group B and give Ronaldo and company much food for thought.
Although Paulo Bento’s unit are cast to a degree in the mould befitting a former defensive midfielder, the 2004 finalists can call on a peerless and prodigious talent in Ronaldo whose mercurial skills can, on his day, take them past any opponent.
Ronaldo has certainly been on fire with Real, even if his exploits were not quite enough to see off Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, in which he missed a penalty, taking the gloss off two goals earlier in the contest.
His 54th goal of the season in all competitions at the Camp Nou last month all but ended Barcelona’s resistance in the battle for the Liga title as he outshone fellow goalscoring machine Lionel Messi, even if the latter did outscore him in La Liga.
And Ronaldo, having added the Spanish crown to the three Premier League titles he won at Old Trafford, can point to being the only man to score against all 19 league opponents in the same season.
Yet at international level, the 27-year-old remains an unfinished product who flatters to deceive in a way very much reminiscent of England, which he lit up during his time at Manchester United.
The Portuguese star made his international debut in August 2003, allowing him to take a place in the team which hosted the 2004 Euros.
He scored twice in the tournament, including the semi-final winner over the Netherlands, but neither he nor his teammates could find a way past Greece, who stunned the hosts in the final.
While still with United, Ronaldo famously went one better than England at the 2006 World Cup, seeing off clubmate Wayne Rooney in the quarter-finals in a repeat of the Euro 2004 quarters.
Yet, just as he failed to find the extra spark against the Greeks, so Ronaldo suffered further grief in international colours in a semi-final defeat to France, and notoriety for having appeared to collude in the earlier sending off of Rooney.
Euro 2008 brought disappointment in the shape of just one goal and a quarter-final exit to Germany, while the 2010 World Cup also saw him showcase little of his club form, as the Selecao bowed out to Spain in the last 16.
Such oscillating international form is a condition which has afflicted Portugal as a whole, as they limped through their qualifiers after excruciating moments such as a 4-4 home draw with lowly Cyprus.
Nevertheless, Ronaldo insists that they “will go to the finals with high expectations — though we have been drawn in a hard group”.