Two knee-caps, belonging to two vastly different number sevens — one a machine and the other an artist — were the deep focus of camera lenses in the lead-up to the Germany-Portugal game. The first, fitted uneasily above Bastian Schweinsteiger’s right shin, wobbled during the pre-match training session, forcing the paramedics to airlift him to a medical facility in Salvador. The second, meanwhile, had caused an immense amount of pain to Cristiano Ronaldo and all of Portugal.
Minutes before kick-off at the majestic Arena Fonte Nova on Monday, Germany coach Joachim Loew announced through his squad-sheet that Schweinsteiger, though fit, would play no part in Alemania’s starting eleven. Loew’s counterpart Paulo Bento, however, couldn’t dare dream of benching the face of world football, considering he is also the soul of this Portuguese side.
Just 45 minutes into the match, how Bento must’ve wished he had. For Ronaldo had done precious little.
In fact, Ronaldo did even less than little as his side’s over-reliance on his legs crippled Portugal. Consider the following as a worthy illustration of that dependence; and also a microcosm of everything that went wrong with Portugal in their opening game.
In the 34th minute, just 120 seconds after conceding their second goal, Nani found himself deep in Germany’s half with only left-back Benedikt Hoewedes to beat to have a real attempt at pulling one back. Despite Hoewedes tugging at his maroon shirt, the swift-footed Nani stepped over the ball, cut to his left and charged dangerously towards goalie Manuel Neuer. The duel had turned Mano-o-Mano.
Only, Nani wanted to make it two-on-one. Just as he reached the right edge of the box, he all but halted and peered over his left shoulder in search of his former Manchester United team-mate. His boss did arrive, but along with German reinforcements. Nani still tapped the ball left and allowed Ronaldo the first bite at the apple; and CR7 obliged by lining up his best shot. But by this time, his best wasn’t nearly good enough. Per Mertesacker, having positioned himself for the block well in time, deflected Portugal’s dream chance into a nighmarish corner.
Instantly, the Portuguese section of the 51,000 strong crowd howled with disgust. But it was too late — for Nani, Ronaldo and Portugal. Over the next 11 minutes and by the end of the first half, they had let in two more goals and let out their best (and most volatile) defender in Pepe, lost to a red card. The match continued…