Portugal’s abject performance in their 4-0 defeat by Germany at the World Cup on Monday was a painful reminder that having the world’s best player does not always guarantee success.
Their ageing, bad-tempered team endured a nightmare afternoon in the wilting heat of Salvador, suggesting that coach Paulo Bento may have miscalculated in staying faithful to the players who reached the Euro 2012 semifinals.
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Poor finishing, dreadful defending and a generally unsporting attitude, culminating with central defender Pepe’s infantile sending-off for a headbutt, combined to make it an all-round disaster for Bento’s side in their Group G opener.
Ronaldo was dragged into the abyss with the rest of his team mates and, apart from a bright opening 10 minutes, never looked as he would have a chance to pull off his shirt and show off his rippling muscles with one of his defiant goal celebrations. Nothing went right for the 29-year-old World Player of the Year whose performance reached a low point when he contrived to drill a 30-metre free kick into a one-man Germany wall.
Even his hair, usually immaculately groomed, fell out of place in the dripping tropical humidity. Although Ronaldo’s mere
presence tends to lead to the assumption that Portugal are one of the world’s top sides, recent results have suggested otherwise.
They struggled through their World Cup qualifying group, finishing behind Russia, and only a superb Ronaldo hat-trick in the playoff tie in Sweden got them here in the first place.
Portugal began well on Monday and could have gone ahead but failed to take their chances. The warning signs were there when keeper Rui Patricio’s attempted clearance went straight to Sami Khedira, who shot narrowly wide of the open goal from 35 metres.
Once Thomas Mueller put Germany ahead with a penalty, carelessly given away by Joao Pereira, problems quickly emerged.
Hugo Almeida and Nani, included despite an unimpressive season at Manchester United, incurred Ronaldo’s wrath after causing Portugal attacks to break down. At the back, Germany’s Mats Hummels was allowed to outjump the defence to head in from a corner before Bruno Alves’s attempted clearance was blocked by Mueller who fired home.
In between, Pepe, who has a long history of losing his cool and lashing out, was sent off for a needless incident with Mueller, leaving Portugal to play the second half with 10 men. Injuries to striker Almeida and left back Fabio Coentrao completed Portugal’s misery.
Ten of their starting lineup also played against Germany at Euro 2012, but the two years since then have clearly taken their toll with several players struggling at club level.
Six of the starters were over 30, including three of the back four, and none younger than 26. (Reuters)
MISSING IN ACTION
Ronaldo had fewer touches (16) in the first half than any other outfield player, who was on the pitch for the full 45 minutes. He had just 47 touches throughout the match — significantly less than the Champions League final (73).
He made just 8 passes (albeit at 100 per cent accuracy) and had zero dribbles in the first period. By full-time his shots tally was seven, one more than the rest of his teammates combined.
DESPITE BEING THE ONLY
Portuguese player to star in three World Cups and his country’s leading goal-scorer, Ronaldo has just two goals in 11 World Cup matches, which contrasts with his Champions League record — 68 goals in 107 games.
The 4-0 loss to Germany equalled the worst loss (goal difference) he has suffered with Portugal, the other being a 6-2 loss to Brazil in 2008.
Germany has scored four or more goals in their last four World Cup opener. Only two countries have won the World Cup after winning their opener by more than four goals —Italy 1934 and Uruguay 1950.
Yawn: First cleansheet of 2014
CURITIBA: Iran and Nigeria looked more like World Cup misfits than magicians on Monday after the first goalless stalemate of a scintillating tournament had Brazilian fans jeering and whistling in contempt. The bore at the Baixada Arena left both unfancied sides still chasing their first victory at a finals since 1998 and with every prospect of having to wait at least another four years. While Iran could take some small satisfaction in keeping a clean sheet for the first time since their debut in 1978, their toothless performance stood out like a suit salesman on Copacabana beach.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina are installed as clear Group F favourites and on Monday’s evidence debutants Bosnia will fancy their chances of joining them as runners-up.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi warned on Sunday that the African sides were as good as any in Brazil and could win the tournament, but the small group of travelling fans who made it to Curitiba saw little evidence of that. Keshi said his side, with Premier League players of the goalscoring calibre of John Obi Mikel and Peter Odemwingie, had dominated but suffered from “nervousness and anxiety” in front of goal. (Reuters)