- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

PARIS (AP) - When you’re as big a presence as Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s hard to hide in the shadows when it starts going awry on the field.

Ronaldo rarely does.

The three-time world player of the year hasn’t been short of scoring opportunities at the European Championship. The problem is that the Portugal captain has had 22 - but missed every one.

He even missed a penalty against Austria on Saturday just weeks after he won the Champions League with Real Madrid from the spot.

Ronaldo - for years one of the most lethal marksmen - blasted his spot-kick at the post.



It was one of 11 Ronaldo misses in the 0-0 draw, a repeat of the number of chances squandered in Portugal’s Group F opener when he complained Iceland was overly defensive in the 1-1 draw.

“I’m disappointed because I feel good physically,” Ronaldo said after his record 128th Portugal appearance on Saturday. “I missed a penalty, but that’s football. I’m sure we’ll be able to improve the standard.”

More specifically it’s about Ronaldo regaining the stellar goal-scoring standards that have served both Portugal and his club sides so well for more than a decade.

Aside from his problems from the penalty spot, Ronaldo has also lost his touch from free kicks. It was hardly surprising he didn’t score from his two free kick efforts against Austria given that he hadn’t found the target from his previous 34 for Portugal at tournaments.

And Ronaldo missed other clear chances too, whether from his head or his feet.

His anguished expressions and sighs to the sky showed the Austrians were achieving their objective.

“That was our target - to get him out of his dangerous zone,” Austria defender Sebastian Proedl said. “If he is getting frustrated about this we are doing our job.”

At times, the 31-year-old Real Madrid forward has appeared like a fading force in the sport he has graced for the best part of a decade in a personal duel for silverware with Barcelona and Argentina rival Lionel Messi.

Were it not for his winning penalty in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid, Ronaldo’s display was largely forgettable.

He still contributed 51 goals for Real Madrid in the recently completed last season and was the second-highest scorer in the Spanish league.

But some of his displays over the year appeared lethargic - perhaps a natural symptom of a player the wrong side of 30. The speedy runs through opposition defenses are now only witnessed in short bursts.

But since Ronaldo is the only superstar in the Portuguese ranks, the team still feels obliged to play through him - even when teams like Austria are denying him space.

“He is free to roam,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said ahead of Saturday’s game. “He needs to break through opposition lines. That is why he is free.”

There has been speculation recently that Ronaldo may leave Real Madrid, possibly for Paris Saint-Germain as a replacement for the now-departed Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG’s home is the Parc des Princes - the same ground he missed all those opportunities on Saturday.

One consolation for Ronaldo is that other big-name European strikers are having similarly frustrating times in France. Ibrahimovic, the Sweden forward was top scorer in France last season but has also failed to score in the first two rounds. Ditto for the Bundesliga’s top scorer, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, and the Premier League’s number one, England’s Harry Kane.

Ronaldo’s footballing prowess far exceeds that trio, none of whom have come close to winning the Ballon D’Or. But continue playing like he is for Portugal and Ronaldo won’t be collecting many more personal accolades.

Ronaldo has another chance against Hungary on Wednesday to show he is still at the peak of his powers. If he doesn’t convert his chances then, Ronaldo and Portugal could be taking an early trip home from France this week.

He’s unlikely to shirk from the challenge.

___

Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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