Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will have to wait another two years to see if he will grace a major final for only the second time, after Spain edged his side 4-2 on penalties in their Euro 2012 semi-final on Wednesday.
However, many would question what happened in the penalty shootout as he stood like a spare part — a disconsolate one at that — as Cesc Fabregas put away the winning penalty leaving him, as Portugal’s fifth penalty taker, superfluous to proceedings.
Even more strangely, both centerbacks had preceded their captain to the penalty spot, though Bruno Alves’ first attempt was cut off in its prime as Nani ran up and told him to go back.
Alves was eventually to go fourth and miss, opening the way for Fabregas to squeeze his winner over the line.
Portuguese coach Paulo Bento, though, was unrepentant about marking Ronaldo down in fifth.
“If it had been 4-4 and he had taken the last penalty, we’d be talking in a different way. It’s about strategy and we’d defined that before,” Bento said.
Ronaldo was phlegmatic about the defeat, though the disappointment was etched all over his face.
“We didn’t lack for conviction, but we were unlucky. That’s penalties for you,” said Ronaldo, who not for the first time this tournament had opposing fans chanting the name of his great rival in La Liga: “Messi! Messi!”
It could all have turned out so differently for the 27-year-old Real Madrid maestro, who came into the game in such good form with three goals to his name at the finals and seemingly ready to inspire his country to their first major title.
He had a quiet start to the game, just producing a couple of flicks and passes inside, while sticking to his left flank.
At that stage, the man marking him, Real Madrid fullback Alvaro Arbeloa, felt confident enough to go forward and side-foot a great chance over the crossbar in the ninth minute.
However, all of a sudden Ronaldo sprang into action with a terrific run down the left and a superb cross that Iker Casillas, his Real teammate in the Spanish goal, managed to pluck out of the air as Nani lurked.
He was now finding taking on Arbeloa to his liking and the fullback had to resort to pulling him down in the 15th minute en route for the penalty area — but his resulting free-kick cannoned off the wall.
He produced his first shot in the 24th minute having drifted into the middle of the pitch, but his lob went well clear of the bar.
On the 31st minute, having drifted in again, he was found by Moutinho, who had intercepted the ball, and he turned the defender and flashed in his shot, which crept past the wrong side of the post.
He had a quiet start to the second half, but clicked back into gear and twice linked up with Hugo Almeida, but both times the lumbering striker preferred to shoot wildly rather than play in his captain.
Ronaldo then popped up on the right flank with Nani going to the other and ghosted in, catching Sergio Ramos unawares, but the latter — another Real colleague — managed to nullify the threat and survived Ronaldo’s vain appeals for a penalty.
Ronaldo missed with a couple more free-kicks before being presented with a golden chance to win it for his side in the final minute as they produced a brilliant counter-attack.
He was found in space by Raul Meireles.
However, his usual eye for goal let him down and he fired well over.