Cristiano Ronaldo has extra motivation ahead of Portugal's Euro 2012 quarterfinal showdown with the Czech Republic after being told he would not be good enough to make the team at hated rival Barcelona.
Following a superb club season, the Real Madrid star hopes to clinch his first piece of international silverware and believes he should be the favorite to win the Ballon d'Or – the world player of the year award currently held by Barca's Lionel Messi.
However, Barca club president Sandro Rosell insisted this week that Ronaldo's talents were hyped up unrealistically and his technical ability was below that of every Barca starter.
"Cristiano Ronaldo is not the best player in the world," Rosell said. "He is the 12th. The first 11 are the Barcelona players. Outside Spain everyone is clear that Messi should win the Ballon d'Or but not here (in Spain)."
Ronaldo has scored at the remarkable rate of more than a goal per game since moving to Real Madrid from Manchester United three years ago, but has often seen his efforts overshadowed by Messi, the Argentinean playmaker who is on course to go down as one of soccer's all-time greats.
His frustration at the constant comparisons caused Ronaldo to boil over after Portugal's second group game against Denmark, when he angrily pointed out that Messi was knocked out of the Copa America with Argentina last year.
A blistering two-goal performance from Ronaldo against the Netherlands clinched a Euros quarterfinal spot for the Portuguese, who were in danger of elimination after losing to Germany in their opening match.
For all his achievements at club level, Ronaldo has sometimes struggled with the responsibility of leading his national side. He was unable to prevent Portugal from losing to Germany in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals and was an anonymous figure in the team's defeat to Spain in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup.
A match-up with the Czechs, a solid and organized side but one without the same level of individual flair as previous Czech teams, offers a serious opportunity for a run to the final that would greatly enhance Ronaldo's Ballon D'Or claims.
The primary task for defending Ronaldo will fall on the shoulders of Theodor Gebre Selaisse, the Ethiopian-born right back who was disgracefully targeted for racial abuse by Russia on the first day of the tournament.
Gebre Selaisse is a tough, physical character who claimed he would not be fazed by the prospect of taking on a top-form Ronaldo. "All games at this tournament have been terribly hard and all have been a challenge," said Gebre Selaisse. "Ronaldo is one of the best in the world, but we are not afraid of him."
Euro 2012 took its first rest day Wednesday after 12 straight days of group action. World Cup finalists the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent, Euro 2008 semifinalists Russia, are the only surprise casualties so far, setting up some tantalizing quarterfinals.
Taking Portugal all the way would not be easy for Ronaldo, but anything is possible if he can continue the form he showed against the Dutch. And in that case, a certain Barcelona official might have to eat his words.
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