The Rio Report

Ronaldo: The only superstar who didn’t shine in Brazil

The Rio Report

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It should have been Cristiano Ronaldo's moment of triumph. Ten minutes left in an absorbing game, the last of the group stage, and he had just fired home a low, left-footed shot to give Portugal a lead they would not lose.

But there was nothing. No emotion, not even a hint of a smile. Instead Ronaldo turned and simply walked back towards the centre-circle.

[RONALDO: PORTUGAL TRIED THEIR BEST]

In some ways, you could forgive Portugal for being almost relieved that a tournament that has resembled purgatory is at an end. Almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. Injuries, suspensions, poor performances, terrible goals conceded, shocking misses – the lot.

Paulo Bento's side knew before this game that they were hanging by a thread, their World Cup hopes on life-support. They needed to thrash a Ghana team that was in utter turmoil themselves, while hoping that Germany beat USA comfortably in a sodden Recife.

[PORTUGAL BEAT GHANA AS BOTH TEAMS KNOCKED OUT]

For either of those things to happen they needed Ronaldo to be at his very best, rather than the half-fit imitation who had taken the field in the 4-0 loss to Germany and the 2-2 draw with USA. Bento's faith in his talisman has never wavered and he gave him even more responsibility in Brasilia, putting him in a central position and essentially giving the 29-year-old a free role.

It is hard not to feel slightly sorry for Bento; his team is built around one man and that man simply hasn't been fit all tournament. But early on it seemed a fine decision as Ronaldo – who had rather wisely shaved off the zig-zag haircut he sported against USA – hit the bar from out wide after just six minutes.

It could have been a cross, but it seemed Ronaldo had spotted goalkeeper Fatau Dauda fractionally off his line and was indeed aiming for the top corner. Yet whereas that would have been a sensational strike, Ronaldo's tournament was summed up 13 minutes later as Dauda made the first of three fine saves to deny him.

It was the sort of chance that Ronaldo normally buries while wearing the white of Real Madrid, as a wonderful inswinging cross from Joao Pereira found him unmarked and just six yards out. The goal was gaping but instead Ronaldo's header was straight at the keeper, who still did brilliantly to deny him before celebrating wildly.

Ronaldo drifted out of the game after that, a bystander as Portugal took the lead and then lost it again in the second-half. He was growing frustrated, visibly annoyed when a foul was awarded against him for a challenge on Dauda in the second-half.

The reality was painfully clear: Ghana were the side who needed a winner, it was they who had a chance of progressing to the last 16, and Portugal were heading home no matter what.

Still, though, Ronaldo left a mark. He will not score many easier goals, smashing home from just outside the six-yard box as Dauda flapped hopelessly, and it is unlikely that a goal in a major finals will mean as little to him.

The lack of a celebration was entirely understandable. Ronaldo is 29, and in the form of his life. He will be 33 by the time the football circus rolls in to Moscow, and there is no certainty that Portugal will be better placed to offer him the support he so clearly needs.

This is a tournament that has been marked by the fact that all of the genuine, big-name stars have stepped up and shown their very best form, bar Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi, for example, has four goals and is giving Brazil every reason to believe he will spoil their party. For the hosts Neymar has been exceptional, while Arjen Robben, Karim Benzema and Robin van Persie have all been outstanding. Even Luis Suarez produced a performance that for any other player could perhaps have been the defining moment of their career.

The men who sell televisions, encourage supporters to use credit cards, shift fast-food and act almost as walking advertising hoardings have been reminding the world that they are in such an exalted position because they are the best in their profession.

All, that is, except Ronaldo. The most dedicated professional around has been unable to show his best through injury and the weaknesses of his team-mates. In a sport that exalts and celebrates the individual, he has unwittingly proven that football is first and foremost a team sport.

That can be seen in Germany and USA, two teams who lack the star quality of a Ronaldo or Messi but make up for it with unity and sense of purposeness.

As Ronaldo walked down the tunnel in Brasilia he should be comforted by the fact that it's not really his fault that Portugal are going home so soon. He has done as much as he could, or as much as he was able. But, in the end, it was nowhere near enough.

Julian Bennetts is based in Sao Paulo and covering Portugal for us at the World Cup finals - you can find him on Twitter @julian_bennetts

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