Cristiano Ronaldo and failure aren’t words you put in the same sentence very often.
But the summer of 2004 was, undoubtedly, a failure for one of the greatest footballers to play the game.
The stage was the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece.
The tournament represented a welcome distraction for many of the Portugal side who, ironically, had stumbled at the hands of Greece in the final of the European Championships the previous month.
Another golden generation
A 19-year-old Ronaldo was part of a typically talented group of Portuguese players tipped to win a first Olympic gold.
While Ronaldo was undoubtedly the star, he was ably assisted by a homegrown quartet of Raul Meireles, Jose Bosingwa, Danny and Hugo Viana.
The Man United winger was one of only three members of the squad playing outside of Portugal, the others being Fulham’s Luis Boa Morte and Stuttgart’s Fernando Meira.
Group of life
On paper Portugal’s main rivals for the gold medal were Italy, who boasted a midfield duo of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, as well as Argentina, who had Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez coming through.
Serbia and Montenegro, with future Juventus winger Milos Krasic, and an Asamoah Gyan inspired Ghana also looked like dark horses.
But Portugal’s Group D opponents, Iraq, Costa Rica and Morocco, didn’t have a recognisable European star between them.
Iraq only called up one European-based player- midfielder Mahdi Karim who was on the books of Cypriot side Apollon Limassol.
First game (Iraq)
Thirteen minutes in and everything was going to script for Portugal, with Hugo Almeida’s cross forcing an own-goal to put Ronaldo and co ahead.
But goals from Emad Mohammed and Hawar Mulla Mohammed flipped the game on its head, although Bosingwa equalised spectacularly heading into half-time.
Things got worse for Portugal when Boa Morte got sent off shortly after half-time, before Younis Mahmoud and Salih Sadir gave Iraq a shock win.
Second game (Morocco)
Portugal recovered from their opening game defeat to edge a nervy game against Morocco 2-1.
Ronaldo scored his first goal of the tournament in the 40th minute, sliding home calmly, with Ricardo Costa’s 73rd minute strike giving Portugal a two-goal lead.
But Morocco halved the deficit in the 85th minute through Bouabid Bouden, during a feisty affair in which seven players were booked.
Third game (Costa Rica)
With Iraq already qualified, thanks to two wins, there was a straight shootout for the final qualification spot between Portugal, on three points, and Morocco and Costa Rica who were both on one point.
A win against Costa Rica would guarantee Portugal a safe passage.
Almeida put Portugal ahead, only for Jose Villalobos to equalise. Fifty minutes played. One apiece on the scoreboard.
CAN YOU NAME MAN UNITED’S STARTING XI THAT TOOK ON CR7’S SPORTING IN 2003?
Jorge Ribeiro scored for Portugal four minutes later with Iraq taking the lead in the other game, against Morocco. Game, set, match.
Even when Costa Rica equalised, thanks to a Fernando Meira own-goal, and Morocco got back on level terms with Iraq, Portugal were still going through.
However two late goals from Costa Rica, and a Morocco winner, meant that not only did Portugal not qualify, they finished bottom of the group, having conceded nine goals.
A Tevez goal against Paraguay gifted Argentina the gold medal, but what of Portugal’s spectacular failure?
Only three players from the entire squad failed to earn senior caps for Portugal at some point in their career.
Right-back Mario Sergio never made it past Portugal’s B team, centre-back Joao Paulo wouldn’t play higher than the Under-21s and striker Luis Lourenco ended up playing for Angola.
But only Ronaldo and Bruno Alves would make it to Euro 2016, where Portugal managed to rid the demons of Greece by beating France in the final.
It will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest failures in Ronaldo’s career. Thankfully countless trophies with club and country, including three Champions League medals, more than make up for it.
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