The Rio Report

Astonishing Ronaldo hampered by Portugal team-mates

The Rio Report

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It took four minutes to realise Cristiano Ronaldo was back.

It took another 90 until we saw him again and by that time it was too late, both for him and Portugal.

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He stalked down the tunnel after the match, not exchanging a word with his team-mates or a handshake with any of the American players.

The reality of the situation was clear to the Portuguese captain: his astonishing last-minute cross, one that Silvestre Varela could not help but bury, had secured a draw that meant almost nothing.

Technically, Portugal are still in the World Cup. In reality, they are a long way from the last 16. They require Germany to beat USA while they defeat Ghana, and overturn a five-goal deficit between themselves and Jurgen Klinsmann's side.

It is the tallest of orders, but Ronaldo himself need not feel too much shame for their position.

As was clear in the first game against Germany, the talisman of this side simply is not fit – but he hid it remarkably well during what was a performance of moments rather than one of regular involvement.

Yet from the off he seemed keen to be involved, searching for the ball and demanding possession.

When he first received it he drew gasps of astonishment.

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There is no phrase to describe what he pulled off in the fourth minute of this game, but to call it show-boating hardly does it justice.

With six touches he had executed two Cruyff turns at speed, made space with a drag-back and laid the ball off, all while three American defenders hurtled past him as the ball went the other way.

It was a frankly astonishing piece of skill, the type that montage-editors would sell their grandmother for.

It also had an end product on this occasion, albeit indirectly. Ronaldo was not involved again as Portugal took the lead through Nani, but he had already made a mark on the competition.

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The question from then on in was whether he would be able to back it up. Portugal, the Germany defeat out of their system, were off to the perfect start, their captain to the fore. USA, who had been extremely fortunate to beat Ghana, were there for the taking.

And then, well, nothing. Portugal froze. They failed to really attack, they really failed to defend.

Few players wear their heart more openly on their sleeve than Ronaldo, and his frustration was clear. After 20 minutes there was a fit of pique after referee Nestor Pitana refused to award him a foul, while the same was the case when Nani (and it always seemed to be Nani) failed to pass to him 10 minutes later.

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There were new go-faster stripes in his hair but suddenly Portugal seemed to be going into reverse.

They were struggling to make an impression on a well-organised USA defence and Ronaldo was resorting to shooting from long-range.

Then, finally, came his moment as he ran through on goal just after the hour mark. It was the sort of chance Ronaldo normally buries in his sleep, but he waited, paused and then sliced the ball well wide of goal.

The jeers from the stands were clear, and Portugal retreated ever further inside their shells.

They were made to pay, in quite some style. The issues over the Portuguese defence can be left for another day, but plain to say Ronaldo has a huge amount of work to do if he is to make up for the issues at the back.

Jermaine Jones' goal was a screamer but Clint Dempsey's was poor, the former Fulham man afforded the freedom of the penalty area to force the ball over the line.

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Then, once again, it came down to Ronaldo. He sent two headers wide and the game seemed up. But then he was afforded one last chance, down the right wing and with no space to work with.

The cross was absolute perfection. Varela did not have to break stride to score, but the celebrations were muted. This was a case of far too little, far too late for Portugal.

So, is it fair to judge Ronaldo's place in the pantheon of greats on the basis of these past two games? Certainly not. Will it happen? Perhaps.

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A couple of stats stand out. This was his 12th World Cup game, the most of any Portuguese in history. In that time he has taken 62 shots and scored just two goals.

It is a poor return, but the knee injury suffered while with Madrid has hampered him, albeit not half as much as the quality of his team-mates. This is an average side with an extraordinary player.

Lionel Messi has produced two moments of stunning quality in two games, Ronaldo one. He is judged by different standards to the others, but considering the circumstances he has not failed. Rather he has shown glimpses of what might have been, were the chase for La Decima not so all-consuming over the past few months.

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So for now, talk of emulating Pele, Diego Maradona and even Eusebio will have to wait. This was a night for a couple of Ronaldo's best moments, but it ended with him stalking down the tunnel without a word.

Portugal, and their captain, are very nearly down and out.

Julian Bennetts will be covering Portugal and Ronaldo's campaign in Brazil for us this summer - Follow him on Twitter @julian_bennetts

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