If modern sport fandom is about being ranged against or utterly for, Cristiano Ronaldo would have left his legion of fans confused. In the 56th minute of a Group F romp in Euro 2024 against a Turkey side whose resistance had been punctured by then, Ronaldo had the ball at his feet inside the box, unchallenged, and goalkeeper Altay Bayinder at his mercy.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo. (AFP)

Ronaldo, 39, with his critics having whipped up the “why still in a Portugal shirt” question in the build-up to the tournament, was a tap-in away from adding another record, the only one that mattered to CR7 or so it was thought — scoring in a successive, record, sixth European Championship. Instead, the Portugal skipper squared it for Bruno Fernandes to put it away. 3-0.

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Whether you are for or against Ronaldo, notching up a record for assists didn’t have the same ring. Selfless and CR7, after all, hadn’t been mentioned in the same breath. The epitaph on world football’s long-running saga had been written even around the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and here he was, soaking in the approbation at a stage next only to the global showpiece.

Ronaldo is feeling the love at Euro 2024, and revelling in it. There is a clip of children waiting in the tunnel to walk out with the players jumping in delight as Ronaldo arrives and high-fives with them. Two of the young girls giggling as they delight in standing in front of the Portugal talisman with the national anthem playing is another clip that has gone viral.

In the first game against Czech Republic, 21-year-old Francisco Conceicao saved the blushes with an added time winner barely two minutes after coming on, but it was the joyous embrace with Ronaldo — he was his father Sergio’s teammate — that became one of the moments of the first week.

The number of intruders onto the pitch clicking selfies with Ronaldo after that Saturday game has got the European football governing body to tighten security to prevent YouTube influencers and random fans from a repeat.

Two games into Portugal’s campaign, it is clear that Ronaldo no longer has the legs to motor past defenders. But his craftiness, positional sense and leadership on the pitch, not to speak of the Al-Nassr forward notching up a Saudi Pro League goal-scoring record of 35 this season, seems to justify manager Roberto Martinez’s faith in his ageing forward.

Against Turkey, the instant Ronaldo saw he had run ahead of Nuno Mendes’s leftwing cross, he quickly sank to the ground to give Bernardo Silva a clear view of the goal and the Manchester City stalwart didn’t miss. There are misses, but his patent hang in the air is still intact. The one clear header he sent awry against Turkey indicated the slowdown.

In a Portugal team brimming with talent across the pitch — Pepe, 41, is still electric in the defence — some of the young forwards, including Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, haven’t done enough to push Ronaldo out.

Ronaldo’s Euro rising can be put in perspective only when one looks at what happened around the Qatar World Cup. His return to Manchester United did boost the great club’s coffers, but new manager Erik ten Hag seemed to take it upon himself to edge out one of football’s icons. That when it seemed all Ronaldo needed was minutes to be in decent shape going into the first December World Cup.

The player’s influence stood out as he engineered his exit, but it all became a huge distraction Portugal could have done without in Qatar. Joao Felix, the hugely talented but still unsettled forward, actually saying at a press conference that it wasn’t necessary that he should only pass to Ronaldo further pulled down the Portugal camp. Ronaldo claiming Bruno Fernandes’ goal as his when the ball had missed his hair by a whisker only gave more ammunition to his critics.

Tim Sherwood, former England player and Tottenham and Aston Villa manager, while analysing Jadon Sancho’s standoff with Ten Hag, compared it to the Ronaldo case. He said the big reason why the Portuguese great faced the flak in Britain was because he was at the fag end of his career.

By the evidence of Euro 2024, the final chapter of Ronaldo’s illustrious career will have to wait.