Assessment: Ronaldo suffers as Portugal falter
Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo suffered an embarrassing early exit, and ESPNFC blogger Simon Curtis looks at where they failed.
One sentence, World Cup recap
Out of the shadows of doubt and into the light of certainty -- Portugal are nowhere near where they want to be.
All team assessments
Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast | Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
It's impossible to nominate one player who stood out in this sorry collective performance. Athough Ronaldo clearly failed to live up to his reputation as the world's finest player, Portugal's leader and talisman had little or no support and looked convinced of his country's slim chances from an early point. His utterings during news conferences laid it bare from the very start that he did not believe Portugal had any chance of winning the World Cup and the squad was "limitadissimo" (extremely limited). Is this stating the truth, or throwing cold water on his teammates' efforts?
- Brassell: Ronaldo not enough for Portugal
Three missed Ronaldo chances at the very end of the game with Ghana showed that the improbable miracle might still have happened had he been 100 percent fit. Instead he treated himself to three different haircuts during Portugal's short stay in Brazil. Goalkeeper Beto, lively bit-part players Ruben Amorim and Vierinha plus team doctor Henrique Jones -- the busiest he's ever been -- did not disgrace themselves. That's about it.
Probably the 59 minutes during the second game against the United States, when Portugal's World Cup was back on track. Nani had scored an early goal, the side looked lively and it would not be until the 64th minute when the illusion began to crack. Another possible moment of euphoric redemption appeared in the 56th minute of the match with Ghana and lasted for approximately 30 seconds.
It was a short high, but you have to take what is offered these days. Portugal, leading Ghana 1-0, heard that the Germans had taken the lead against the United States. Now, all that was necessary was to apply the pressure to a wobbly looking African side, get a second and the rest might just transpire as the Portuguese nation had dreamed it. Instead, within 30 seconds (I kid thee not), Ghana had equalised and the dream returned to the hill of dust it had been since the 12th minute of the opening game, when Germany began their horrific demolition job of Paulo Bento's side.
The realisation after the first game that the World Cup dream of the nation was almost certainly a wicked hologram reflecting off the back of Bento's head. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong in that first match, setting the tempo and the mood for the rest of the mini-campaign. A red card, injuries and an avalanche of goals against. Stodgy, predictable tactics; stale, below-par players; and a manager who refused to see the train wreck before it was too late.
Besides an inability to rein in the cavorting Germans, low points were also found in the other two games, just to provide balance. Against the United States, Portugal failed to hold on to a lead, and provided a similarly frustrating pastiche in the final game, where nobody really believed in "the Miracle of Brasilia."
One of Bento's strongest characteristics is his stubbornness. He will have learned that he must play more of Portugal's younger stars. Eder and William did not look ready when finally given their chances, but they only appeared because of injuries to Bento's stodgy favourites.
He will have learned that the days of Hugo Almeida and Hélder Postiga causing the slightest problems in a top international competition are over. He will have learned that he cannot trust Pepe to do what he is on the pitch to do.
He will have learned that Bruno Alves, Miguel Veloso and Nani probably also have reached the point of no-return. Above all, he will have learned the Portuguese population are patient and unassuming folk who do not ask for the world.
What they do expect, though, is a team that is well-prepared. The Portugusese national team, as Bento stated, "should be an open house to all" -- not just old favourites and tired regulars. He must learn that these are not just hollow words for the media but the watchword of the next Portuguese campaign, which starts in less than two months against Albania.