Stoppage Time: Ronaldo seeks defining moment against Spain
(Sports Network) - Zinedine Zidane had the last goal against Spain in knockout play of a major tournament. He retired in 2006.
Italy, Russia, Germany, Portugal, Paraguay, Germany (again), Netherlands and France have been unable to score since as Spain has captured Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, and advanced to the Euro 2012 semifinals.
Those seven teams have combined for eight World Cup titles and eight European titles, with Germany, Italy and France contributing the majority.
Exactly eight years to the day Zidane sent France to a 3-1 win over Spain with the final goal in stoppage time of the round of 16 game in the 2006 World Cup, Portugal will try to end the remarkable run Wednesday.
And as Zidane is to France, Cristiano Ronaldo is to Portugal.
But those seven teams that have failed to solve Spain over the last six years, well, they include Ronaldo and Portugal in the 2010 World Cup.
Spain may lull opponents to sleep with its possession style of play. But that its opponents rarely even get a sniff at a goal has shown just how dominant its reign has been.
Iker Casillas has been the goalkeeper for Spain since the 2002 World Cup and he was in goal for all 780 minutes of the shutout streak, spanning three major tournaments.
A teammate of Casillas at Real Madrid, Ronaldo may know him as well as anyone. But will he get the opportunity to put his inside knowledge to use?
So good is the underappreciated Spanish defense, when Croatia forced Casillas to make a save with the match scoreless in the final group match of Euro 2012, the world wondered what was wrong.
"The fact that Croatia had one good chance doesn't mean that they were on top, come on," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
Ronaldo will hope to have one good chance. He will not be able to waste it.
Negated in the first match of the tournament by Germany, in the semifinals on Thursday against Italy, Ronaldo scored twice against Netherlands and had the lone goal in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic.
But over that same span, Ronaldo has hit the post four times. He has missed a few other golden opportunities as well. Some, albeit, created due to his pure skill and athleticism.
Spain, until proven otherwise, is the best squad in Euro 2012. Ronaldo is the best player in the tournament - that is undisputed.
The only player in the world mentioned in the same conversation with Argentina star Lionel Messi, Ronaldo has played second-fiddle since he was selected FIFA World Player of the Year in 2008. It has been Messi's title ever since.
"He's a tricky player, it's hard to defend against him," Czech defender Tomas Sivok said of Ronaldo.
Spain, on the other hand, is a tricky team to play against.
But Ronaldo knows all the Spanish players well, as teammates and close rivals, and remains confident ahead of the semifinal clash. He wants to advance to the Euro final again, eight years after his breakout performance ended with a loss in the final to Greece.
To attain the status of a player like Zidane, who led France to the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 titles, Ronaldo has to win a major international trophy.
And if the goal that ends the Spanish dynasty comes off his boot, it will mark one of the crowning moments of his career and put Ronaldo in position to seal that first international triumph.
"Our goal is to get to the final," said Ronaldo, who scored in the semifinals of a 2-1 win over the Dutch in Euro '04. "We know that we will face an amazing team in the semifinals, but anything is possible."
Especially when a once-in-a-generation player, like Zidane for France, has his defining moment within reach.