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Rejuvenated Ronaldo looking for encore

- Associated Press - Monday, June 18, 2012

KHARKIV, UKRAINE (AP) - Maybe, just maybe, those taunting cries of "Messi, Messi, Messi" that follow Cristiano Ronaldo everywhere will grow fainter.

Ronaldo led Portugal to the quarterfinals of the European Championship with perhaps his best game on the international stage, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands on Sunday.

But can he deliver an encore? Or two? Or three? His next test comes Thursday when the Portuguese play the Czech Republic for a place in the semifinals.

"Our goal was to get beyond the group stage and we did it," he said. "Anything can happen now."

The big question now is whether Ronaldo will crumble again as the games get ever more intense? At 27, Ronaldo knows all too well how fickle things can be when playing for Portugal.

He was lambasted for missing clear chances in the first two games. But the tone was altogether different after his performance against the Netherlands.

"Ronaldo got so much criticism in his first games and he is back now," Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said. "This is how fast it can change."

The Real Madrid star can even start putting some parity into the rivalry with FC Barcelona rival Lionel Messi. After being dominated by Messi in Spain for about three years, Real Madrid finally won La Liga this season, even if Ronaldo still finished second to Messi in the scoring standings.

Ronaldo can take personal pride to a level of petulance, and fans have latched onto it. From Bosnia to Spain to Lviv, Ukraine, during his second Euro 2012 game against Denmark, he has been mocked with Messi chants.

All too often, Ronaldo's game appears to be about himself, an attitude going back to his street soccer days on the remote Portuguese island of Madeira _ beating defenders for the sake of beating them, posing ostentatiously before free kicks, hogging the ball, making braggadocio displays after his goals.

Messi, by comparison, is the ultimate team player, happy to celebrate the greatest goals with a simple smile and still come out ahead of Ronaldo.

With Messi half a world away, Ronaldo noted that the Argentine also often misfires for his country. Ronaldo wants a second Ballon d'Or to add to his 2008 trophy. And if he is to end Messi's string of three straight trophies as European player of the year, he assuredly needs a great Euro 2012.

After bad games against Germany and Denmark, where some misses defied belief, he had a final chance to set things right against the Netherlands.

This time, he thrived on the pressure. Instead of bickering with teammates, he was the consummate captain. Instead of sulking in midfield if the ball didn't come his way, he was culling passes, dragging defenders all over the field and beating them at will.

On top of that, he scored two superb goals and hit the post twice for good measure.

The man of the match heard no taunts of "Messi, Messi" from the thousands of Dutch fans. Ronaldo silenced them all.

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