Cristiano Ronaldo was partly responsible for the flawed penalty strategy that saw Portugal eliminated from the Euro 2012 semifinals before he had a chance to be the hero, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
Within moments of Portugal losing its semifinal to Spain 4-2 on penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw, head coach Paulo Bento claimed responsibility for the decision to put Ronaldo, widely regarded as one of the two best players in the world, fifth in the kicking order.
That strategy was designed to ensure that the 27-year-old could clinch victory, but it backfired spectacularly when Spain won before Ronaldo even had a chance to take his turn.
The Real Madrid superstar was left stunned after Cesc Fabregas rolled in the winning kick to send Spain to within one victory of an unprecedented third straight major tournament trophy.
"I feel sad," Ronaldo said. "Losing a semifinal in a penalty shootout is always painful, but it is a lottery, the luckier team wins. The decision on who to shoot the fifth penalty was unanimous."
However, he must take his share of the blame for the decision to place himself fifth and being left a bystander in the shootout.
Despite some confusion among fans when Ronaldo appeared to shake his head when the order was handed to match officials just moments before the penalty drama, Yahoo! Sports has learned that the decision was not the coach's alone. Prior to the tournament, Bento sat down with his assistant coaches to discuss a wide range of matters, including logistics, training schedules, and the preferred penalty order if the team was involved in a shootout during the knockout stages.
Ronaldo, as captain, was the only player consulted, and, according to a well-placed source, voiced his preference for taking the fifth kick.
"This was not a choice that was [Bento's] and his alone," said the source prior to the semifinal. "Cristiano has an important role and his opinion is listened to in detail. It was one of many things discussed, that he should take the final penalty."
Ronaldo has enjoyed previous success from that position, taking the kick that sent Portugal into the semifinal of the 2006 World Cup at the expense of England, and scoring comfortably.
He has some dark recent memories of shooting in an earlier slot, missing from the spot in Real Madrid's Champions League semifinal defeat to Bayern Munich while going first.
If not for that experience, he may have opted to go first against Spain, the place that would be expected of a player as important to his team as Ronaldo.
Elimination means another major tournament has gone by without Ronaldo getting his hands on any hardware and his frustration was all too evident after the game. Victory at Euro 2012 would have almost certainly guaranteed him the Ballon d'Or award, given to the world's best player, a tribute that may now be handed to his rival Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina.
[Photos: Spain beats Portugal on penalty kicks]
Ronaldo put together a solid performance during regulation, especially in a first half that Portugal dominated. However, with just one minute left in regulation, he horribly sliced an attempt on goal that would have put his team into Sunday's final – an error that will only add weight to the theory that he struggles to deliver when it counts.
It was not Ronaldo's fault that this turned out to be a desperately disappointing game. That fact, lamentably, was caused by Spain's ultra-cautious approach, despite boasting a squad containing far more overall talent.
The extra-time period offered some more entertainment, but regulation was uninspiring. However effective Spain coach Vicente del Bosque feels his policy of not playing Fernando Torres is, it certainly takes something away from the spectacle of the game.
But it is hard to argue with success, and having booked a place in the final, Spain is where 13 already-eliminated teams, plus Thursday's semifinalists Germany and Italy, would love to be.
Perhaps Spain is not attaining the same levels it was in 2008 or 2010, but equally, achieving results without reaching peak performance might just be the ultimate sign of its greatness.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has some weeks of regret ahead before the club season gets underway.
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