Spotlight on Sanches
Terrific teenager represents Portugal's future as time ticks for regressing Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo lives for the spotlight, but now finds himself being upstaged in it.
He will leave Euro 2016, whenever that will be, clutching a glimpse of both his past and impending future.
The tournament that catapulted him into international stardom now serves as a reminder of his descent into mortality.
For both club and country, the shadows are increasingly lurking over his shoulder.
Already losing one battle at Real Madrid to Gareth Bale, Renato Sanches has threatened to hasten that inevitable fall from grace for Portugal also.
Reports of the 31-year-old's demise appeared to have been greatly exaggerated on the back of a two-goal haul that complimented his show-stopping performance in a breathless final Group F finale with Hungary.
Yesterday morning's (Singapore time) belated victory over Poland, however, suggested it was an accurate prophecy rather than a hazard at guesswork.
True to form, Ronaldo turned on the style for a prospective scrapbook moment by opening the scoring of the penalty shoot-out that set Fernando Santos' side on their way into next Thursday's semi-final in Lyon.
Yet it was his catalogue of misses that were responsible for Portugal finding themselves contending with the rigours from 12 yards in the first place.
As chance upon chance beckoned, he fluffed his lines time and again.
For a player with an innate sense of timing, his inability to connect with a Sanches cross deep in extra-time was a symptomatic of his diminishing pace.
Such instances were a rarity once upon a time; moments which would find themselves rendered little more than an occasional blip rather than a never-ending stream of schadenfreude, as the majority of his outings in France have provided.
In Sanches, Manchester United were afforded a sight of what their star-studded new era has failed to capture.
Their former pupil, similarly, received a prophecy that the changing of the international guard is forthcoming.
At 18, Sanches is unlikely to usurp Ronaldo's long-standing sceptre in the interim, but the countdown to that day of reckoning began in earnest at Marseille's Stade Velodrome with a rifled finish and a coolly-taken spot-kick.
The histrionics synonymous with his captain's time at the top from an early age appear lost on the new Bayern Munich midfielder, even with a price tag that could rise to make a significant dent in the winger's own marquee signing.
Whether a player whose composure belies his tender years and flies in the face of experiencing so much, so young will succumb to such flaws is unlikely.
Sanches' decisive and level-headed performances throughout his Euro 2016 cameos are a far cry from the emotionally charged aspects of Ronaldo's game.
As Santos scours for Portugal's next talisman, that antithesis could be the solution to nearly a decade of over-reliance on their longstanding, if currently ailing, show-stopper.
Leapfrogging Ronaldo as one of the youngest scorers in the Finals' history by Sanches was symbolic.
His international teammate is in danger of finding himself left behind amid the rise of a new generation of wunderkinds.
Re-invent or relent are the only options available to a player whose battle for betterment has previously driven him on against the game's great and good.
To ensure that he keeps moving forward, Ronaldo must embrace a reluctant step back.
Only his headstrong nature will decide whether that is a viable option.
"He still has a lot to offer and is still growing. The Renato you see today, this is not the future Renato. He has to take all his qualities and put it all on the pitch and it is my job to help organise his type of play."
- Portugal coach Fernando Santos on Man-of-the-Match Renato Sanches
'We don't care about criticism'
Renato Sanches insists any criticism of Portugal has no effect on the players as they reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 after a penalty shoot-out victory over Poland yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Robert Lewandowski had given Poland an early lead with the second-fastest goal in the history of the competition, but the 18-year-old Sanches levelled with his first senior international strike.
The 1-1 draw was a largely drab affair, but both sides produced in the penalty shoot-out, only for Jakub Blaszczykowski to see his effort saved with Portugal advancing courtesy of a 5-3 success as substitute Ricardo Quaresma struck the winning penalty.
Sanches tucked away Portugal's second spot-kick after captain Cristiano Ronaldo made up for a frustrating evening by scoring the opener.
He said the players remain confident despite having not won a game inside 90 minutes on their way to the last four, where they will meet either Wales or Belgium.
"It is a wonderful moment for the team, for me for scoring," he said.
"We have been working very hard and we have been doing our best. People criticise us, but we don't care, because we are in the semis. We conceded very early, but we believed until the end, we tried our best.
"The move for the goal turned out that way, but the team have been playing well, we are very confident, so we will keep on trying to play our best."
Having signed for Bayern Munich before the tournament, Sanches has impressed in substitute appearances but was unleashed from the start and did not disappoint.
His deflected equaliser brought Fernando Santos' side level and his confident demeanour meant he was more than happy to face up to taking a penalty during the shoot-out.
"For the penalties, the coach asked who wanted to shoot," he said.
"Cristiano was first and I said I would be second. The coach had faith in me and I was confident enough to ask to shoot.
"I was just thinking about scoring, I was very cool, very collected, did what I always do and picked a side and put it in there."
Portugal coach Santos said his hardest task will be keeping his "kids" grounded as more than a third of his 23-man squad are under the age of 25.
"I have to manage everything because for these kids... It's a dream," said Santos.
"They are playing for their country, they have reached the semis and now anything can happen. It is a dream for me, but I imagine it is an even bigger dream for my players." - Wire Services.