Cristiano Ronaldo is tired of living in the shadow of Lionel Messi.
The Portuguese international and Real Madrid superstar forward is doing everything in his power to be recognized as the world's best.
After finally wrenching the La Liga trophy from the grasp of Messi's dynastic Barcelona team last season, Ronaldo is trying to one up the legendary Argentine forward another way -- by winning a major international tournament.
International tournaments have provided a great deal of disappointment for Ronaldo. He made his first senior appearance in a major competition for Portugal in Euro 2004, and was named in the team of the tournament. Ronaldo and host-nation Portugal were flying high leading into the title match.
But in the Final, the Portuguese fell to Greece, perhaps the most surprising European champions in the competition's history. That loss in Lisbon has been succeeded by subpar international performances from Europe's highest-paid player.
Euro 2012 looked to be a continuation of that trend leading into Portugal's final group game against the Netherlands on Sunday. The 27-year-old superstar had failed to score on 11 shots in his previous two games, including two rather easy opportunities against Denmark, which could have cost Portugal the game and their chances of making the last eight.
Danish fans chanted Messi from the stands to unnerve Ronaldo and keep his slump going. To further add to the Portuguese winger's woes, Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner leveled the match at 2-2 just moments after Ronaldo blew a golden opportunity with just Denmark goalkeeper Stephan Andersen standing between him and the goal. The former Manchester United star and his team were saved after an 87th minute goal by late substitute Silvestre Varela.
Following the match, Ronaldo was asked about the chants by a Portuguese publication. He responded with the following: You know where he was at this time [last year]? Do you know? He was being eliminated in the Copa America, in his own country. I think that's worse, no?
Messi was on his mind, and this volatile response showed that Ronaldo was still trying to prove his worth against the Argentine, even when competing in a different tournament. Even in victory, Ronaldo could not escape the aura of the consensus best player in the game, considering his own poor performance.
The win against Denmark gave Portugal three precious points in the group of death, and control of their own destiny, only needing to defeat the Netherlands to guarantee reaching the quarterfinals. After an early goal from Rafael van der Vaart put the Dutch in charge, Ronaldo helped lead an unrelenting attack, marked by two goal-scoring efforts, which were executed to perfection.
The 2-1 victory at the expense of the previous World Cup runners-up gave Ronaldo both a win and temporary vindication leading up to Portugal's quarterfinal match with the Czech Republic. Portugal has made at least the quarterfinals every year since 1996, but has never won a title.
Hoisting the trophy on July 1 at Olympic Stadium in Kiev would further immortalize Ronaldo as one of the game's all-time greats. But first Portugal has to get past a tough Czech team. The Czech Republic won a relatively easy Group A after opening the tournament with a 4-1 loss to Russia.
The Czechs shut out Poland and allowed only one goal to Greece, but concerns remain about their defense after Russia scored four on them. The Czech Republic has also lost the possession battle in every game that it has played. If Portugal is allowed to build its attack and receive low-pressure from the defense, Ronaldo could see a lot more easy opportunities.
On paper, Portugal have the clear advantage, and 2012 Champions-League-winning star Petr Cech may very well have his hands full in goal.
But the Czech Republic is no pushover. With a talented attacking tandem of Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar cutting in from the the wing, this Czech squad advanced this far for a reason.
Both Jiracek and Pilar have as many goals as Ronaldo in the tournament and have helped put the Czech Republic into the knockout round for the third time since its first tournament in 1996. It will have to deal with an all-star cast of Portuguese players, including Manchester United's Nani and Real Madrid's Pepe.
Even with all of this talent on the field, all eyes will be fixed on Ronaldo as he attempts to establish his legacy and differentiate himself from Lionel Messi.
With a strong performance in this tournament and a win from Portugal, Ronaldo will go a long way to earning consideration for the Ballon d'Or for 2012 after scoring 60 goals for Real Madrid and winning La Liga for the first time.