A simple way of looking at the semi-final between Portugal and Spain might be as a contest between the individual brilliance of one man and the collective genius of an entire squad
Paulo Bento barely raised an eyebrow when he was informed on Tuesday that 95% of Ukraine's womenfolk will be cheering for Cristiano Ronaldo in Wednesday's semi-final. "Wherever he goes, they will be there," declared the local journalist who had produced the statistic.
"If it is 95% now," the Portugal head coach responded, "I think after the match Cristiano might even have the last 5% cheering for him."
A simple way of looking at the match between Portugal and Spain on Wednesday night might be as a contest between the individual brilliance of one man and the collective genius of an entire squad. Can the defending champions, perhaps the most team-minded outfit of all time, stop the captain of Portugal from becoming the star of the tournament?
Just about the only thing lacking in Ronaldo's trophy cabinet is a winner's medal from a major international tournament. Eight years ago, aged 19, he was a losing finalist in Lisbon against Greece but was named in the team of the tournament. Two years later he played in a World Cup semi-final defeat at France's hands, then went out of Euro 2008 in the quarter-finals to Germany. Two years ago in South Africa it was Spain who eliminated Portugal in the round of 16.
"It's normal for there to be lots of talk about Ronaldo," Vicente del Bosque, Bento's opposite number, said during his own press conference. "He's one of the best players in the world, he never goes unnoticed."
At the start of this tournament, Ronaldo was chiefly being noticed for his failure to make an early impact. Following Portugal's opening defeat by Germany, he contributed little to the desperate 3-2 defeat of Denmark. But then he woke up, to spectacular effect, with two brilliant goals that determined the outcome against Holland, followed by the late header that snatched victory in the quarter-final against the Czech Republic.
Had Del Bosque not been bizarrely sacked by Real Madrid in 2003, the day after he had added another Spanish title to the two European Cups he won with the club, he might still have been around to work with Ronaldo, who arrived at the Bernabéu from Manchester United in 2009 to embark on a sequence of remarkable goalscoring feats. It would have been interesting to watch a working partnership between the sober, old-school coach, who lost his job in Madrid because the Real hierarchy believed he was not charismatic enough to work with the new generation of galácticos, and a player who could be seen as the galáctico of all galácticos, as long as that description did not imply any criticism of his commitment to the business of winning football matches.
There will be plenty of familiar faces from Valdebebas, the Real Madrid training centre, on both sides on Wednesday. In the shirt of Portugal will be Pepe, the centre-back, and Fábio Coentrão, the left-back. Among the opposition will be Iker Casillas, Real's goalkeeper, the midfielder Xabi Alonso and the defenders Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa with another defender, Raúl Albiol, on the bench.
Ronaldo plays on the left of the front three for Portugal, switching positions only occasionally, and Arbeloa, the former Liverpool right-back, will have the job of keeping him quiet. "I haven't spoken to him," he said on Tuesday. "I probably won't until I see him tomorrow. We don't know yet if I am playing but if I have to play against him – well, we all know what level he has. He's scored three goals and he's playing really well.
" He's a demanding player to face, mentally and physically. When you play against the best, people who are playing spectacularly well, it's always tough. You know you have to be at your very best. I like to measure myself against the best players of the world and it's a great challenge. Of course you can't stop him for 90 minutes, but it's a nice battle."
Alvaro Negredo, the Seville forward who made the briefest of appearances off the bench in the group match against Croatia, said defenders will have to be careful not to commit offences in positions that would offer Ronaldo the chance to exercise his dead‑ball magic. "We know he's a great free-kick taker, and it's important not to give away stupid fouls," he said, before reminding himself of the benefits of having a side packed with Ronaldo's club-mates. "We have the best goalkeeper in the world. He knows him. He'll know how to stop him."