Ronaldo's needs



(Thomas Mueller 12pen, 45+1, 78, Mats Hummels 32)


There are times when it is very hard to feel sorry for Cristiano Ronaldo.

This was not one of them.

Watching the World Player of the Year thrashing around helplessly as his team collapsed around him was a distinctly uncomfortable experience, worsened by the realisation that this may be his last World Cup, or at least the last World Cup at the peak of his powers.

Ronaldo, startlingly to those who will always remember him as the spaghetti-haired youngster sent to learn his trade under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, is now 29.

When the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia, he will be 33 and a very different player, if indeed he is still playing.

When you have been the very best for so very long, it can be hard to motivate yourself as your powers fade.

Portugal were knocked out in the semi-finals of Ronaldo's first World Cup in 2006 and he left the field in tears.

In 2010, it was even worse as they were eliminated by Spain in the first knock-out round, despite having negotiated the hardest group.

This year was supposed to be different, even after Portugal were again handed a horrendous draw.

But Ronaldo, for all of his efforts, is quite clearly out of sorts.

A lingering knee injury from the end of Real Madrid's season continues to affect his movement and his pace and a furious desperation to find a way to compensate for his shortcomings has seen him snatch at his chances.

His late free-kick against Germany, an abysmal effort that skidded off the turf into the ankles of a one-man wall, rather summed up his day.


But to pin Portugal's stunning defeat on Ronaldo, as some observers have, is absurd.

He was far below his best, but at least he was there for the duration of the game, forcing his battered body through the pain barrier in search of redemption.

At least he didn't drop his team deep in trouble by butting an opponent right in front of the referee, as Pepe did.

At least he had the courage to look for goal and not simply play the easy pass all the time, as Luis Nani did.

Portugal have long been a team with one superstar and a good supporting cast, but without the balance or depth needed to make them favourites for a tournament.

The use of Hugo Almeida, a journeyman striker whose 13 goals for Besiktas were a career best, sums up their problems in the final third. His replacement yesterday morning (Singapore time), the hard-working Eder, has never scored for Portugal.


When the supporting cast perform, and with Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves, there are excellent players available, Ronaldo has a chance to win the international medal he craves.

But when his teammates fall short, all the individual talent in the world will not save Portugal. They need more.

From somewhere, Portugal must now rouse themselves and save their summer.

They will have to do it without Pepe, whose idiocy has cost him team dearly.

They will also have to do it without Fabio Coentrao, whose injury will rule him out for the rest of the group stages.

Much of the burden will fall on the shoulders of Ronaldo, a responsibility he will not hide from.

But he needs more help from those around him.

He needs his coach Paulo Bento to find a way to give him the support he requires.

He needs, more than anything, a goal to reinvigorate his self-belief.

Because this may be his last chance to win the World Cup.

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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