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BERLIN: Time has passed – again – for Portugal’s aging superstar Cristiano Ronaldo after an inglorious exit from Euro 2024.

France knocked out the 2016 winners 5-3 on penalties after a goalless quarter-final in Hamburg on Friday, with Ronaldo ineffective at best, damaging his own team’s aspirations at worst.

At the 2022 World Cup, when former coach Fernando Santos left Ronaldo on the bench for the team’s 6-1 demolition of Switzerland, a bright future for Portugal shone on the horizon.

However, his successor Roberto Martinez has backed the 39-year-old, who now plays in Saudi Arabia at Al-Nassr, to the hilt and beyond.

Retaining their former Real Madrid and Manchester United strikers, Portugal cruised through Euro qualification with a 100% record and were among the favorites in Germany.

However, they have performed very poorly, with Ronaldo failing to find the net in five appearances this summer. The striker is without a goal in his last nine major tournament matches.

Despite boasting strong options to replace him, including Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Paris Saint-Germain’s Goncalo Ramos, Martinez refused to take Ronaldo off against France.

Didier Deschamps replaced Les Bleus icon Kylian Mbappe as he struggled to make an impact, but Ronaldo stuck around even as the game passed him by.

In the round of 16 win over Slovenia, Ronaldo missed an extra-time penalty and broke down in tears, a distracting sideshow, but Martinez praised the forward’s emotional reaction after the game as a sign of his passion.

However, many suspect those tears were not for Portugal but for himself as he failed to break the record of the oldest player ever to score at a European Championship.

Ronaldo also completed his goalscoring run at every major international tournament he played in and was unable to extend his record 14 goals at the Euros.

He took 23 shots without success in Germany, and perhaps the most poignant was a brilliant opportunity in extra time against France.

Vigorous winger Francisco Conceicao cut the ball back to the striker a few yards from goal, but somehow fired his side’s clearest chance high over the bar.

It was the kind of chance Ronaldo has sent a hundred times in his career.

The presence of Ronaldo strongly conditions the way Portugal plays.

His teammates, including creative geniuses Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, often resort to crosses to try and find him.

Ronaldo no longer has the pace to consistently get in behind the defence, limiting the passing options of the team’s playmakers.

Not only did Martinez not look strong enough to leave Ronaldo out of his plans, but he couldn’t even replace the striker at the tournament, except in the shock 2-0 loss to Georgia.

Ronaldo started that match, even though Portugal were guaranteed to win the group, while almost all the other regulars were rested.

The coach said after France’s elimination that no decision had been made on Ronaldo’s future at international level.

“We just finished the game, everything is still too raw, we are suffering a defeat as a team, there are no individual decisions at this moment,” Martinez told reporters.

One of the reasons why the Spanish coach may not feel strong enough to cut the cord is the “cult of Cristiano” that is evident among the team’s supporters.

Attending a Portugal match means swimming in a sea of ​​brown Ronaldo ‘7’ shirts, with some fans wearing masks of their talisman’s face.

Even opposition fans come to watch Ronaldo’s circus, although now there are more sulks and scuffles than goals.

“(Our fans) wanted to see Ronaldo more, that’s why they freaked out at the game,” remarked Slovenian midfielder Adam Gnezda Cerin in a March friendly in which they beat Ronaldo and Portugal by 2-0.

Although they were eventually knocked out by Portugal on penalties at the Euros, they once again exposed Ronaldo’s inadequacy at this level and France finished the job.

Ronaldo has admitted these will be his last Euros, but as Portugal now turn their attention to the 2026 World Cup, their chances will surely be enhanced without the cross-dressing assassin.

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