Ronaldo's World Cup ends in a loss for Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo could not make his way to the exit tunnel fast enough, cutting a straight line through his Spanish opponents as they celebrated victory.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Cristiano Ronaldo could not make his way to the exit tunnel fast enough, cutting a straight line through his Spanish opponents as they celebrated victory.
It was that kind of World Cup for the most expensive player in the game. While millions tuned in to see some magic from the highly acclaimed winger, Ronaldo didn't really leave a major impression on the World Cup before Portugal's second-round elimination on Tuesday.
His statistics in South Africa tell only part of the story: a late goal in a 7-0 rout of lowly North Korea, some impressive free kicks, and one brilliant turn and shot that struck the post in Portugal's opener against the Ivory Coast.
But his performance on and off the ball over six hours of competitive play didn't make him one of the stand out players of the tournament.
And this was only 18 months on from being named world player of the year, in the prime of his career at 25, in good health and brimming with confidence.
Ronaldo's performance in Portugal's 1-0 loss to Spain doesn't rank among his best.
When the ball first swung his way in the fifth minute, Ronaldo missed it completely. He whipped in a good cross and sent a dangerous, dipping free kick at goal in the 28th minute, but then was kept quiet by the Spanish defence when what Portugal really needed was a some match-winning moments of inspiration.
Still, Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz defended the performance of his captain.
"He is our leader, our captain," Queiroz said. The decision over captain "belongs to the federation and the national coach. Because we did that, you must believe we did that for the right reason."
Queiroz didn't elaborate, and Ronaldo left Cape Town's Green Point Stadium without speaking to reporters.
Ronaldo scored 26 goals in 29 matches in his debut season at Real Madrid, after his 94 million euro (C$120.8 million) move from Manchester United. Because of it, he was widely tipped to join England's Wayne Rooney and Argentina's Lionel Messi as the key figures of the World Cup. But only Messi has truly lived up to the hype.
True, Ronaldo often faced two or three defenders, cutting down his attacking options. But even in one-on-one situations, he wasn't brilliant.
"It's very difficult to focus on Cristiano Ronaldo and try to neutralize his game," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "We tried to mark him when he came into the area, and basically neutralized his efforts."
Spain's centre back pairing of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol know Ronaldo well, having helped stopped him from a scoring a goal in FC Barcelona's season sweep of Real Madrid. Those wins proved the difference as Barca edged Real for the title.
His supporters hoped a glorious World Cup run would highlight Ronaldo's career and set him among the greats. A well-publicized commercial showed him setting up in his classic stance for a free kick as Portugal's citizens prepared to unveil a marble monument in his honour and the story of his World Cup triumph was being filmed.
But, like at the European Championship two years ago, Ronaldo didn't reach the expected heights.
And as the match ended, a frustrated Ronaldo appeared to spit on the ground as he walked off.
Ronaldo's South Africa 2010 campaign was over.