Abject Portugal Hiding Behind Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo will be carrying his Portugal team-mates home rather than into the knockout stages. Unless he gets help...

Last Updated: 17/06/14 at 08:26 Post Comment

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"I believe I can make a difference, but one player is not a team. I cannot carry the national side on my own."

Despite his unflinching self-belief, perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo had a sense of what was to come when he spoke to the media ahead of Portugal's surrender to Germany. The superstar's confidence befits that of a man who truly believes he could take on the world and win but even he, with a 'gargantuan ego' according to Rio Ferdinand, was keen to lessen the weight of expectation ahead of Portugal's World Cup opener.

It may be that Ronaldo knew when he faced the press that he was feeling only 100 per cent, rather than his preferred 110. But it is more likely that he was all too aware of the limitations of his supporting acts. Paulo Bento's side struggled to get to Brazil and had to rely on Ronaldo to drag them past Sweden with a Ballon d'Or-sealing display in their qualification play-off. That tactic may reap more rewards against against United States and Ghana in their next two Group G matches, but Germany, like the other genuine World Cup contenders, are too good to fall for that.

Thomas Muller's opening goal from the penalty spot concluded a frantic opening ten minutes during which Team Ronaldo peaked. The talisman had already set up Hugo Almeida after a fine burst past half the Germany back four, blazed over from 30 yards, tested Manuel Neuer's reflexes with a low drive from inside the box and thrown in a needlessly-showy flick for good measure. Then Mario Gotze was brought down in the box, and so were Portugal.

Of course, Pepe's customary lunacy was a factor in Portugal's surrender, but by then, Germany were already two up and comfortable. The game was gone.

Joachim Low selected four centre-halves across his back four, with the middle two, Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels, barely breaking sweat in shackling Hugo Almeida, while Jerome Boateng was aided most by Sami Khedira and Philipp Lahm in crowding out Portugal's biggest danger. Ronaldo was left up front to threaten Germany on the break, but after going behind, Portugal - the "world champions of counter-attacking football", according to Low - never got the opportunity to expose the Germans' rearguard.

For the victors, it was all too easy. Muller's hat-trick typified 2010's Golden Boot winner. His second and third goals were opportunist strikes, pouncing on loose balls in the box, both of which came after a coolly converted penalty. The 24-year-old now has eight World Cup finals goals to his name and is only six behind Gerd Muller and all-time record-chasing Miroslav Klose, who was kept on the bench when he was probably gasping to get on in the second half and fill his boots.

Klose's non-participation and Germany's second-half display reflected Low's apparent desire to play safe, and because of the ease of their victory, it is difficult to judge the victors any further. Had Germany gone for ten-man Portugal's throat after half-time, Ronaldo may have failed to keep back the tears he appeared to be on the verge of as the clock ticked down.

The fitness concerns surrounding the Real Madrid star before kick-off appeared to be the least of his problems. Largely due to injuries to Almeida and Fabio Coentrao, Ronaldo played the whole 90 minutes, during the last of which came the best of his seven attempts on goal: a ripsnorter of a free-kick which would have snapped the wrists of a weaker goalkeeper than Neuer.

Only an injury to Ronaldo would have made the evening any worse for Bento, who will have to face United States on Sunday without two of his first-choice back four and probably his starting centre-forward. The coach has bitter memories of facing the Stars and Stripes at the World Cup, having been part of the much-hyped side which lost 3-2 and suffered a premature exit in 2002. A repeat of that defeat will inevitably see Ronaldo carry Portugal home rather than to the knock-out stages and deny him the chance to prove beyond any doubt that he is the best player on the planet.

Ronaldo, perhaps with further sense of foreboding, claimed on Sunday he does not need that opportunity: "Look at my statistics and CV - I have nothing to prove." With Lionel Messi off and running, though, Portugal's brightest star knows he needs to light up the World Cup stage. He can only do that if his supporting acts step up and give him a platform to perform.

Ian Watson - follow him on Twitter

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