Will the real Ronaldo show up?

Portugal's Christiano Ronaldo during practice at Arena Lviv in Lviv, Ukraine, June 8, 2012. (EDDIE...

Portugal's Christiano Ronaldo during practice at Arena Lviv in Lviv, Ukraine, June 8, 2012. (EDDIE KEOGH/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:18 PM ET

KHARKIV, UKRAINE - Splattered on the side of one of downtown Johannesburg's tallest skyscrapers two years ago was a huge image of Cristiano Ronaldo, a 30-storey likeness of the Portuguese superstar that served as a gigantic ad for Nike.

Never had Cristiano Ronaldo been so much larger than life.

Off the field, anyway.

On the pitch, well, that was an entirely different story.

Because, in the end, Ronaldo came up small for Portugal.

It was World Cup 2010 and Ronaldo, one of the most skilled performers the Beautiful Game has ever seen, came nowhere near to living up to his billing.

Or, for that matter, his huge photo splashed on that glass tower.

Considered by many to be the world's second best player behind only the brilliant Lionel Messi of Argentina and Barcelona fame, Ronaldo scored just once in four games as Portugal was sent packing without being able to get past the second round. The goal, brilliant effort that it was, was hardly a decisive one, coming in a 7-0 humiliation of North Korea.

But the lack of production by his famous cleats wasn't the only disappointment in his performance in South Africa.

In the bitter 1-0 loss to rival Spain that eliminated Portugal from the competition, Ronaldo humiliated himself by spitting in the direction of a television cameraman, a heinous acted witnessed by millions of viewers across the world.

"I am devastated," Ronaldo said of the defeat to the Spanish.

Maybe. But was that any excuse to hork a gob in the vicinity of another person?

Of course not.

Since that time, those close to Ronaldo say he has matured. On the field, he has been magnificent, bulging the back of the net 60 times in all competitions in 2011-12.

Impressive numbers, sure.

But, starting Saturday, they mean absolutely nothing.

On that day, in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ronaldo's Portuguese squad opens its Euro 2012 group schedule against the highly regarded Germans.

Domestic league success is all well and good, but it's on the world stage where Ronaldo has come up short. Euro 2012 is the perfect stage for Ronaldo to change that trend.

That's not to say he has to carry the Portuguese on his back all the way to the title. But if his country is to escape the so-called Group of Death that includes powerhouses Germany and the Netherlands along with underdog Denmark, he definitely will have to be far more productive than he was in South Africa.

For what it's worth, Ronaldo is saying all the right things heading into the tournament, exuding cautious confidence despite the fact Portugal staggered into the tournament, needing a playoff to qualify for the final 16 and dropping a 3-1 decision to Turkey in its final tuneup match for Euro 2016.

"We obviously want to win, because we want to start the Euros well," Ronaldo said. "(The Germans) are a great team, they have had great results in recent competitions, so we respect them a lot. But we also have our strengths and we will do everything to start the Euros on the right foot.

"We have everything we need and we just have to be calm because things will go well."

Writing a column for German daily Die Welt online, star German midfielder Mesut Ozil dispelled the allegations that Ronaldo is aloof, claiming his Real Madrid teammate is really "a nice guy."

"He is for me an extraordinary player, in every way," Ozil wrote. "When I arrived at Real Madrid almost two years ago, I felt he really took care of me.

"He's not a loner, actually he gives a lot for the whole team. He acts as an example for the rest of the squad and now I know that he is simply a nice guy."

Ozil also rejected suggestions that Ronaldo is a selfish prima donna.

"Although so much has been written about his private life, I can say with absolute conviction that he is a thorough professional," Ozil wrote. "He is focused very strongly on the sport and invests a lot in his personal fitness.

"I do not begrudge him any victory -- except on Saturday, of course."

In the end, all the Germany-Portugal pre-match hype can be whittled down to one question.

Will the real Cristiano Ronaldo please stand up?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


Videos

Photos