Christ the Redeemer, meet Cristiano the Redeemer. Both the deco statue and the soccer player are chiseled, tower over peers, are idolized worldwide ad now have the shared experience of an exalted resurrection on their record.
Redemption for Cristiano Ronaldo took place on June 22, 2014 A.D. midway through the 94th minute of a 90 minute match that was granted five minutes of extra time.
Rippin’ it like Ronaldo has replaced bending it like Beckham in the American sports lexicon. Not only did Ronaldo rip his gravity-defying ball through the humid Manaus air with immaculate precision, but he also tore out the sinking hearts of Americans who moments earlier were consumed by the hubris of a near victory and were ripping Ronaldo on social media.
The stomach churning moment for Americans could be dubbed The Mountain vs. the Red, White and Blue Viper.
In Portugal, it was pure euphoria. Ronaldo is worshipped across Europe as a football phenom. In the United States he became scorned as a vile obstruction in the United States’ treacherous path out of the Group of Death.
Worldwide he’s as polarizing as LeBron James is domestically. You either love him or hate him. There is no in between.
Like James, Ronaldo is a physical specimen among his elite peers. He’s an imposing figure for a sport revolving around athletes with short legs and low centers of gravity.
Lionel Messi may very well match or exceed Ronaldo’s production and value, but the 5-7 forward is trailing Ronaldo as a celebrity figure.
Both are already the two best players in the World. No offense to Luis Suarez, who is gaining ground in the rear after winning the past six FIFA World Player of the Year awards. However, to enter the picture frame of the game’s all-time virtuosos, they have to make their pitch on the international stage where the passion runs hottest.
There are a pair of preambles to Sunday’s moment that deserve to be mentioned that put the pressure on Ronaldo into proper context.
First there was his prime adversary Messi, netting a screeching howler to beat Iran in extra time on Saturday afternoon that advanced Argentina into the knockout stage, ramping up the pressure on Ronaldo to match his pitch heroism.
The second moment that needs examining is the cloud hanging over Ronaldo from Portugal’s Euro 2012 exit.
As Portugal’s semi-final match against Spain’s championship side went into penalty kicks, the two teams exchanged goals until Bruno Alves’ kick bounced off the crossbar, allowing Spaniard Cesc Fabregas to score the 4-2 penalty advantage which eliminated A Selecção. Ronaldo, who was slotted as Portugal’s final up, never had a shot at kicking Spain out of the tournament.
For the first 94.5 minutes, Ronaldo was just as helpless as he was two years ago while displaying a paucity of adroitness that bordered on an extraordinary case of the yips.
Like an actor forgetting his lines on stage or an infielder who suddenly can’t make an accurate throw to first base, Portugal’s talisman appeared to have lost his magic.
His first touch of the night trickled off his foot and out of bounds. Throughout the night, he was marked nicely by U.S. defenders.
The stakes were simple after Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal. A win was off the table. Lose and Portugal would go home early. A draw would keep them alive.
On his penultimate touch in the open field, Ronaldo go in the clear, sent a kick wide right of the goal from the right flank and it appeared, Portugal’s last gasp has been snuffed out.
Ronaldo was on the verge of being dubbed the World Cup’s Mr. Bum, an allusion to the former Miss Bum Bum contestant stalking him in Brazil.
Renaldo becomes the world cups most overrrated player
— William C. Rhoden (@WCRhoden) June 22, 2014
On Portugal’s final counter attack, Ronaldo was given a second chance on an island with DaMarcus Beasley from a similar spot on the pitch.
As Ronaldo began surveying the field from the right flank, the expectation was that this he’d make another run at the glorious equalizer for himself. Instead, he curved a dipping cross into the box that hung in the air forever before finding the top of Silvestre Valera’s streaking dome. Valera sped up after Ronaldo launched his cross and beat beleaguered defender Geoff Cameron, whose miskick led to Nani's goal in the fifth minute, to the spot.
Howard was helpless to stop the rocketing orb from flying past him and into the back of the net. Hearts sank as his Valestre’s header pierced the net and shrieks of “son of a pitch!” exploded from the gaping mouths of American viewers.
The mood quickly changed and the record scratched for the U.S.
So what had happened was…
— DJ Meta Dunson (@CerebralSportex) June 22, 2014
There would be no happy ending for Dempsey. One man's resurrection is another man's lower circle of hell.
There’s no telling which hurt more the American soccer hero. Getting his nose crushed by a Ghanaian boot to the face or having his name violently snatched from its hallowed placed in U.S. Soccer immortality. This was a bizarro version of the Ghana win.
The U.S. was constantly on the attack after allowing the first goal on a clearance miscue, but this time they had the dagger stuck into their sides during the final seconds.
“In soccer, you’ve got two 18×44 yard boxes at each end of the field. If you’ve got the best player in one box and the best player in the other box, you’ll win most of these games, it doesn’t matter what the other guys in short pants are doing.” Said a prominent DC-area collegiate soccer tactician whose name escapes me like the Portugal win did from the United States’ grasp.
“Against Ghana we [the United States] had the best men at one in Clint Dempsey and the best in the other in Tim Howard. If they’re the best two in their spots today, we will win the second game.” He added.
Instead, both boxes cancelled one another out in a draw, leaving Fos Sports analyst Donovan McNabb out there somewhere, staring into the abyss and waiting for overtime.
The Portugal match was certainly a testament to Dempsey’s resiliency, but on the other end, Howard was powerless to the mystical skill of Ronaldo. The United States will have their own shot at redemption against Germany Wednesday at noon.
Ronaldo can breathe easy though. He has been redeemed and Portugal has risen.