LISBON (Reuters) - Love him or loathe him, there is no denying that Cristiano Ronaldo has had a profound effect on Portugal’s national team since making his debut against Kazakhstan in August 2003.
The Madeira-born forward is their captain, free kick and penalty taker, most-capped player and all-time leading scorer with 81 goals in 149 appearances.
In his 15 years of international football, he has helped Portugal to one European championship title, a runners-up spot, a semi-final and a World Cup semi-final — a record which puts many bigger nations to shame.
Ronaldo has scored for his country in seven major tournaments in a row — the last three World Cups and last four European championships.
Even at 33, he was Portugal’s leading scorer in the qualifying campaign for Russia with 15 goals.
Funchal’s airport is named after him although the naming ceremony last year was somewhat overshadowed by the unveiling of a statue of Ronaldo which was ridiculed on social media.
Dozens of sponsorship deals, where he has endorsed everything from fragrances to watches and clothes to a steel manufacturer, have turned him into one of the world’s richest sportsmen.
Always immaculately groomed, the five-times World Player of the Year likes nothing more than to celebrate a goal by lifting up his shirt to show off his rippling muscles.
He is usually last to go in a penalty shootout — which allowed him to score the winning kick for Real Madrid in the 2016 Champions League final but meant he missed out altogether in the Euro 2012 semi-final against Spain who won before his turn came.
There is sometimes a sense that Ronaldo is both the problem and the solution for Portugal.
Although his goals have rescued them on numerous occasions, there is often a feeling that his team would not have got into trouble in the first place if he had not insisted on taking, and wasting, every free kick.
He has taken more than 40 free kicks at major tournaments without converting and television pictures often show him remonstrating angrily with his younger team mates when the ball does not reach him.
Few in Portugal will say a bad word about him though.
When Ronaldo was carried off on a stretcher early in the Euro 2016 final against France — with a moth adding insult to injury by landing on his head — it seemed he was about to be denied the achievement he craved the most.
But with Ronaldo urging his team mates on from the touch-line, almost upstaging coach Fernando Santos, Portugal defied the odds to win the final 1-0.
And it was Ronaldo who was the first to put his hands on the trophy.
Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Peter Rutherford