Despite the pain of semi-final defeat, despite the countless number of squandered free-kicks, and despite THAT penalty selection dilemma, Cristiano Ronaldo had an impressive Euro 2012.

The Real Madrid star carried the hopes of a proud Portuguese nation, and did an admirable job, steering Paulo Bento's side to the semi-finals, and a noble defeat to eventual champions Spain.

Don't forget, Portugal took Spain all the way, and Vicente Del Bosque's side only captured that historic third consecutive championship after squeaking past Ronaldo and Co - who gave their all in a surprisingly efficient tactical set-up.

All the talk before the tournament centred on Ronaldo. Would he be able to carry his startling Real Madrid form into the competition? And the early signs didn't look promising. Chances came and went against Denmark and Germany, and the unsavoury Ronaldo came to the fore - all petulant kicks and angry glares.

Then came the comparisons with his chief tormentor and arch rival, Lionel Messi. The mere mention of the Barca star was enough to send Ronaldo off on a rant - an unfortunate reaction that hinted at Ronaldo's desperation to outperform the Argentinian.

Taunting fans had chanted 'Messi, Messi' from the stands as Ronaldo missed presentable opportunities against Denmark, and his frustration boiled over.

But against Holland, with the match, and Portugal's Euro 2012 existence, on the line, the former-Manchester United player rose to the occasion. Two goals past the Dutch was followed by another against the Czechs, and all of a sudden Ronaldo was the player of the tournament.

Spain was one game too far, but Ronaldo had already answered his critics. He had set the tournament alight, and had carried a mediocre Portugal team further than the likes of Holland and France.

But Ronaldo will always be compared to Messi - that comes with the territory of being the two best players in the world. For the past three years Messi has blown Ronaldo away, sweeping all the individual and team awards going.

But this year, with a La Liga title in the trophy cabinet, a stunning collection of match-winning goals on tape, and series of impressive performances as captain of his national team, Ronaldo may finally get the better of his Argentinian foe.

The Ballon d'Or is not awarded until the end of 2012, but the candidates are largely judged on their performances in the season before - in this case the 2011/12 campaign.

Last year, Ronaldo was unstoppable for Real Madrid, a one man juggernaut tasked with the sole mission to wrestle control of La Liga away from Messi and Barca, and to repatriate it back to the Spanish capital.

60 goals in 55 appearances tells its own story, but Messi still scored more than CR7. The Barca star's unbelievable season topped 70 goals as he topped the Pichichi chart, but Madrid's No.7 got the most important trophy - the league title. Yes, the Ballon d'Or is an individual award, but football is a team sport, and a player's achievements must be viewed within the context of the success of their team.

The league title always rewards the most consistent performers, and Ronaldo was the best player on the most consistently brilliant team.

Even though he's surrounded by a more talented supporting cast at Madrid, Ronaldo is still unquestionably the main main. And to beat Messi, who can count on the world's third and fourth best players - Andres Iniesta and Xavi - is a more impressive achievement.

His coaches support his case - Jose Mourinho has backed his player for the Ballon d'Or, and Ronaldo's boss at Portugal, Paulo Bento, has done likewise.

"I consider that Ronaldo's performances at Euro 2012 were good," said Bento. "He is the best in the world and I think that he will be considered the best player in the world this year and he did not need to win the Euros to be considered that."

Bento is right - international success is no precondition for the award - Messi, is a three-time winner and is yet to shine at a major tournament- and Ronaldo played well this summer. Coupled with his domestic performances, and Ronaldo looks deserving of his first Ballon d'Or since 2008.

The award is, and has been since 2008, a two-horse race between Portugal and Argentina. Other contenders this year include Andrea Pirlo - off the back of Juventus' unbeaten Serie A campaign and his performances as a classic Italian midfield general - and the Player of the Tournament Andres Iniesta.

But the award will stay in the hands of a previous winner again this year. Whether that is Ronaldo - who would add to his sole 2008 victory - or Messi - whose fourth Ballon d'Or would make him the only player to win the trophy more than three times, only time will tell.

But if Ronaldo plays second fiddle to Messi once again, the Portuguese can at least console himself with the knowledge that he completed one of the greatest individuals seasons of all-time.

As captain of his country he stepped up to the mark, at club level he was irrepressible, and at the end of the year he should be collecting his second Ballon d'Or.

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