It is not just his goals that make Cristiano Ronaldo such a crucial figure for UEFA EURO 2016 finalists Portugal – team reporter Joseph Walker pays tribute to the captain and his influence.
As Cristiano Ronaldo headed in and wheeled away at the Stade de Lyon he was mobbed by his team-mates. It was a familiar sight – the Portugal captain dragging his side over the line once more.
The scenes at Wednesday's semi-final against Wales were eerily reminiscent of those during the Group F meeting with Hungary, where Portugal battled from behind three times to secure a 3-3 draw and advance as one of the best third-placed nations.
Without Ronaldo on such magical form on matchday three – creating EURO history in becoming the first player to score in four tournaments – Portugal would likely have been sent packing. As it was, their talisman stepped up and helped them seal a round of 16 spot.
- All the action and reaction as it happened
- Ronaldo equals Platini's record of nine finals goals
- Every man of the match at UEFA EURO 2016
The general consensus is that the forward has been below par this championship. Granted, against Austria he endured a frustrating evening as he struck a post with a penalty, yet invariably during his team's most crucial moments it has been Ronaldo to the fore.
Aside from that important double against Hungary, it was the skipper who slid the ball through to Nani – enjoying a quietly excellent tournament alongside him in attack – to equalise against the Magyars and help Portugal back into a game they were struggling to get a foothold in.
In the last 16, it may have been Ricardo Quaresma who nodded in the 117th-minute winner versus Croatia, but who was there beside his great mate, spearheading the counterattack and forcing a save with time running out? Ronaldo.
The 31-year-old has also shown signs of outstanding leadership skills. You can see the influence he has on the squad every day in training, where he is often at the centre of things, laughing and joking. This renewed drive has never been more evident than in the quarter-final shoot-out with Poland.
When Ronaldo had been assigned the fifth penalty against Spain in the UEFA EURO 2012 semis, Bruno Alves's miss ensured it did not proceed that far. This time there was no repeat. The No7 scored the first to guarantee his country the perfect start. In the build-up he also spoke with João Moutinho – another to miss four years ago – encouraging the midfielder, eventually coaxing him into taking one. It worked.
Further heroics followed against Wales in Lyon. On the night he became the first player to figure in three EURO semi-finals and with the tie on a knife-edge, time seemed to stand still as Ronaldo hung in the air following Raphael Guerreiro's cross. Rising above James Chester, he powered Portugal in front and duly equalled Michel Platini's record of nine EURO finals goals. There was a sense of inevitability about things.
He then claimed an assist for Nani's effort as Portugal clinched their UEFA EURO 2016 final berth, 12 years on from their last appearance in the title decider. Chasing yet another EURO record, the Real Madrid man is also seeking to fill the one void in his trophy cabinet: a major honour with Portugal. He will never get a better chance.