When you reach the penalty shootout in the quarterfinals of a major tournament without winning a single match in 90 minutes, ideal scenarios lose importance. This was the situation Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal found themselves in against Poland, after three draws in the group stage and needing 117 minutes to score against Croatia in the round of 16.
Ronaldo squandered several beautiful chances against Poland, heightening the lure of taking Portugal’s fifth penalty for the potential chance to whip off his shirt and bask in the glory of finishing off the match just as he did for Real Madrid in the Champions League final a month earlier. But then there was the memory of Euro 2012. When Cristiano waited for that glorious moment in the semifinals against Spain, but two misses in Portugal’s first four attempts prevented it from happening. He waited for prestige and only get exclusion and four years of wondering what if he had stepped up to the spot sooner.
So this time he went first. And yes, perhaps the chance to show up Lionel Messi, who missed Argentina’s first penalty in their Copa America Centenario shootout loss to Chile and then promptly retired from international play, strengthened the appeal of doing that, but there would be no finality. No shirtless photo-op. No headlines. Only the chance to help his team, to steady the ship, and to set up someone else to eliminate Poland and keep Portugal alive for another few days.
After sending Lukasz Fabianski the wrong way, Cristiano went back to the center circle and appeared to pray as he stood away from everyone else. Each of his teammates followed his lead, went up to the spot, and converted their penalties — including Ricardo Quaresma, who scored the fifth and final penalty normally reserved for Cristiano — sending Portugal to the semifinals.
Quaresma kept his shirt on after scoring the decisive goal, but he also got all the individual glory.
It’s difficult to say whether Cristiano’s decision was a show of maturity, pragmatism, or something else entirely. Regardless, it was one that helped his team advance at the expense of his own desires. And since all of his more selfish tendencies get highlighted and ridiculed at every opportunity, it’s worth recognizing important moments like this, too.