Theodo Gebre Selassie learned why one shouldn’t keep poking a caged tiger with a stick. It will maul you when it gets the chance, even if it’s in front of a global audience in a quarterfinal game at the 2012 UEFA European Championships.
In recent weeks, global superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James have been mocked and provoked. Critics say the two cannot deliver on the biggest stage when their teams need them most. But both are standing within an arm’s length of glory.
James has scored 25 points or more for the Miami Heat in 14 straight playoff games. That obscene streak helped catapult Miami past the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals when it looked like all was lost. The NBA Most Valuable Player responded to the internet jokes (at his expense) by reaching the mythical “zone” to overcome Boston and give his team a commanding lead in the NBA Finals. James now stands just hours away from capturing his first NBA championship and vindicating his controversial decision to join Miami.
Portugal captain Ronaldo was ridiculed for spurning scoring opportunities (including hitting the post twice) in his team’s first two games at Euro 2012. When reporters brought up the touchy subject of constant comparisons with Lionel Messi, Ronaldo responded with a dig at his rival superstar.
At that moment, it looked like the pressure of a major tournament had gotten the best of Ronaldo. But something else happened that day. The door to the tiger’s cage was left open. Ronaldo scored twice against the Netherlands to end Dutch hopes of ruling Europe. He was loose, but Gebre Selassie didn’t sseem to realize it.
Goal.com reports the Czech Republic defender told Czech news outlet Mlada fronta Dnes that he was not intimidated by the idea of facing a player that some consider the best in the world.
“Every match at the Euros is hard, it does not matter who you face,” Gebre Salassie said. “Perhaps facing Ronaldo will be a bit more challenging for me. He is one of the best in the world, but I am not afraid. I will not step onto the pitch scared because Ronaldo is there.”
“He is very fast, always trying to play one-on-one, and he creates a lot of chances.”
Those comments were fine in and of themselves. But then, the 25-year-old brought up Messi and unwittingly poked that loose tiger with the “M Stick.”
“I saw Ronaldo in action against Netherlands and he played well,” Selassie said. “But I think Messi is better. It is hard to compare, as they are different players.”
That was surely enough to send Ronaldo into the game with an edge. In the past, he has reportedly viewed slights to his ego as challenges to devoured. The 27-year-old was dangerous throughout the game. Had he converted either of two first-half efforts, they would have gone down as two of the great goals in the competition’s illustrious history.
In the second half, Ronaldo swapped the right flank for the left, matching him up against his tormenter Gebre Salassie. He was the focal point of an attack that kept the Czechs pinned deep in their own end for most of the half. He stepped up and won the game for Portugal with a goal in the 79th minute.
Ronaldo darted into the area from the left just as Joao Moutinho hit an inch-perfect, curling cross. Selassie was caught admiring the quality of the pass, and Ronaldo slipped in front of him to meet the cross with a diving header. The shot had so much power that it hit the ground and bounced past helpless goalkeeper Petr Cech into the roof of the net.
Selassie was forced to eat his words, while it seemed like Ronaldo was boosted by victory.
“I thought we played very well and created many chances,” Sky sports reports Ronaldo said. “We hit the post twice but it was important to get through to the semi-finals.”
“But the most important thing was that I scored and the team won. The side played very well and we are in the semi-finals, so we are very happy for that.”
Portugal will meet the winner of Spain-France, which takes place on June 27 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Ronaldo seems to be growing in stature with each passing game. The French and Spanish should shudder at the thought of facing Portugal in the semifinal. What they should not do is say Messi’s name in the same sentence as Ronaldo’s. If they do, it had better not be within earshot of the in-form Portuguese superstar.
Review all the action from Thursday’s game in our Euro 2012 Live Blog.