Ronaldo let down by Portugal team-mates

The Rio Report

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The camera was trained on the Portuguese team bus as it arrived at the stadium in Salvador, and it was waiting for one man.

When Cristiano Ronaldo emerged, television viewers followed him every step of the way to the dressing room. He looked straight ahead, unblinking, focussed, intense.

Just over three hours later the cameras again zoomed in on the Portuguese captain as he stood, hands on hips, in the centre-circle.

His hair was a mess and he looked exhausted. He seemed almost on the verge of tears, a broken man.

His team had just been destroyed by Germany, a public humiliation in their opening game of the World Cup.



The final result was 4-0 but it could have been more. A tournament that they had entered full of hope now already resembles a car crash.

Pepe was sent-off, Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao injured – and worst of all, Ronaldo seemed a shadow of the player we know he can be.

This was meant to be the day he made his mark on the greatest stage of all.

Going into the match he would have known that the tournament to date has seen star after star produce their very best in a World Cup that has already played host to a remarkable number of iconic moments.

Neymar, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Mario Balotelli – tick, tick, tick, tick.

Most significantly of all, as far as comparisons with Ronaldo go, Lionel Messi had lit up the Maracana the previous night with a goal of sumptuous skill and technique.

On Monday, it was Ronaldo's turn. Before the game he declared he had completely recovered from a knee injury - "I would like to be 110 per cent fit but I am 100 per cent fit and that should be enough to help the national team," he said to great relief from the travelling press pack.

Sadly that did not seem to be the case in Salvador, but it is also worth highlighting another of Ronaldo's comments from his press conference on Sunday.

“I'm just here to help,” he had said. “I can make a difference in some games but I can't carry the team on my back.”

That is undeniably true, particularly if his team-mates decide to implode in such spectacular fashion. There were a number of potential villains, from goalkeeper Rui Patricio to Joao Pereira, who gave away the penalty for the opening goal, but Pepe's behaviour was utterly ridiculous.

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His decision to push his forehead into Thomas Mueller's as the latter sat on the turf invited a red card and was utterly brainless. It also meant a difficult job for Ronaldo and friends became impossible.

The Real Madrid man had actually started well, firing in a low shot that Manuel Neuer could only parry, but it was the falsest of dawns.

Germany had a plan for how to deal with him, and Jerome Boateng was carrying it out to perfection.

“Our goal was to disrupt him as soon as he got the ball and Boateng did that very, very well,” said German coach Joachim Loew after the match.

“We played at a high pace in the first-half to get our chances. It is important to prevent Ronaldo from getting a run going because he is very dangerous then.”

Ronaldo seemed to realise this himself, and resorted to long shots earlier than we might have expected. In the end he had seven, only two of which were on target, and his free-kicks were woeful for the most part, one late effort that was well saved apart.

Then, midway through the second-half, came the boos. It was unclear who exactly was booing the 29-year-old, but it was loud and sustained. It was also decidedly odd; surely the crowd could see this was a man who was not fully fit and was being let down by his team-mates?

Football supporters are not a forgiving bunch at the best of times, and as Mueller poached Ronaldo's frustration grew.

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Finally he exploded when Serbian referee Milorad Mazic, who Portugal blamed for the defeat, denied them a penalty for what seemed a clear foul on Eder by Benedikt Hoewedes.

The game was long gone by that point but Ronaldo chased the official, haranging him in a manner that brought back memories of Roy Keane chasing Andy D'Urso.

It was unedifying but almost understandable. Imagine being under that much pressure, having that much expectation on your shoulders and then having to watch on almost helplessly as your team crumbles.

Still, it is not all over yet. Germany were expected to top the group and Portugal can still be confident of finishing ahead of Ghana and USA.

That said, they need Ronaldo's fitness to improve and the team to show they can bounce back from a serious drubbing.

The eyes of the world are on him, and Portugal cannot afford for Ronaldo to disappoint again.

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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