By Mark Doyle in Salvador
Cristiano Ronaldo is often accused of arrogance but on the eve of Portugal’s World Cup opener against Germany he was keen to stress that he cannot win the tournament on his own. “I’m just here to help,” he insisted. “I can make a difference in some games but I can’t carry the team on my back.”
Five minutes into the second half of Monday’s Group G clash in Salvador, he tried to take on the entire German defence alone. Almost inevitably, he was quickly and easily dispossessed, allowing Joachim Low's men to break and engineer an opening for Mesut Ozil that really should have been taken. All the while, Ronaldo had remained on halfway, hands on hips, cheeks puffed out, clearly bemused by the futility of his efforts.
By that stage, Portugal were already 3-0 down. The game was over – and Ronaldo knew it. He had denied beforehand that he had anything to prove on the game’s grandest stage but there was no denying that he had arrived in Brazil intent on improving significantly upon a record of two goals from 48 previous shots on goal in World Cup competition. He was desperate to show the watching world what he was capable of. At Arena Fonte Nova, he did not get a chance to. Instead, Pepe decided to remind everyone what he is capable of – chronic indiscipline and staggering stupidity.
There can be no denying that Thomas Muller exaggerated the impact that Pepe’s flailing arm made upon his face as he challenged the defender for the ball just outside the Portugal penalty area. However, Pepe’s reaction to the Bayen Munich attacking midfielder’s theatrics was shocking – and yet unsurprising.
Quite why he elected to headbutt Muller as the ‘false nine’ was sitting on the turf is anyone’s guess.
His sadly all-too-predictable petulance deprived Portugal of any opportunity to turn the game around. He had not only let himself down – again – he had, criminally, let his country down.
And this from a player apparently reformed after a season at Real Madrid which passed largely without incident.
Ronaldo will also undoubtedly feel betrayed. Pepe is one of the senior members of the squad. He is a colleague at both international and club level. Ronaldo’s frustration was therefore understandable. As were his attempts to try to drag Portugal back into the game all by himself.
Speculative strikes from distance were always unlikely to yield dividends but Ronaldo had once again been reduced to the role of a one-man rescue operation.
His complaints proved in vain. Just like his efforts all game. As he himself said beforehand, “I don’t believe that one man makes a team.” That was made painfully clear to Portugal in Salvador on Monday afternoon.
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