Ronaldo and Messi’s World Cup legacies on the line — only one of them is strengthening his case

Nobody is denying both are supreme talents, but in a Portugal shirt the signature of Ronaldo does not have the same flourish as we have grown accustomed to.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, centre, is closed down by United States' Matt Besler, right, and United States' Geoff Cameron last night. Paulo Duarte / AP Photo
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, centre, is closed down by United States' Matt Besler, right, and United States' Geoff Cameron last night. Paulo Duarte / AP Photo

MANAUS // If there is one thing this World Cup has taught us it is that the high-profile names might not always dominate matches, but they will inevitably turn up at some point of proceedings, adding their coveted signature to the script.

On Saturday night, Lionel Messi waited until the 91st minute before hitting Argentina’s sublime winner in the 1-0 win over a disciplined but ultimately downbeat Iran. Twenty-four hours later, Cristiano Ronaldo waited even longer before delivering a perfect cross on to the head of Portuguese winger Varela in the 2-2 draw with the United States. The clock said 95 minutes had been played.

Greats leave it late.

Messi had experienced a frustrating game against Iran, failing to get on the ball and looking a shadow of the player who gives Spanish defences twisted blood. Yet he had been constantly smothered by red shirts, who crowded him out at every opportunity, denying him space, time or an opportunity to create something special.

Ronaldo similarly endured a poor game, but he was not marked anywhere near as tightly. The US had a game plan, executed it to perfection for 94 minutes and did not sacrifice their own attacking instincts to try to counter one specific opposing player. Ronaldo failed to drop deep and stamp his authority on the game.

Pre-match, he exchanged hugs with former Manchester United teammate Tim Howard, but that proved about as close as he would get to the US goalkeeper. Within the first 20 minutes, he had passed the ball straight out of play and been caught offside unnecessarily. On both occasions he stood, hands on hips, unimpressed. A free-kick late in the first period was perfect Ronaldo territory, yet he spanked it wildly over the cross bar. He did not force a save from Howard.

In fact, aside from a quartet of Cruyff turns early on to navigate his way out of danger, he never showed any hint of recapturing the Sweden-level of performance that saw Portugal qualify for Brazil in the first place.

The second period did not prove much better. A header over, another offside call and body language that seemed to suggest his country’s World Cup hopes were already cooked. In the final 10 minutes, as his team trailed and his teammates moved around breaking down further US attacks, Ronaldo stood at the top of the pitch — often deliberately in an offside position — with little indication that he is the best player in world football.

After delivering the assist for the equaliser, there was muted celebration and at the final whistle he disappeared down the tunnel without thanking the fans. Unlike the rest of the Portuguese players, he did not immediately reappear to speak to press. None of which is captain-like behaviour. Perhaps the load on his shoulders needs to be spread. He showed nothing on Sunday night to suggest he is ready to rally his team. Mostly, he was looking only to pass the blame.

Ronaldo and Messi both know their legacies are on the line this month. For now, though, only one of them is strengthening his case. The Argentine has scored twice in two games, both proving match-winners; Ronaldo has been part of a Portugal side that has lost heavily and came within a few seconds of being eliminated.

Nobody is denying both are supreme talents, but in a Portugal shirt the signature of Ronaldo does not have the same flourish as we have grown accustomed to. The expectation that he could single-handedly drag an underachieving side through the group stages is proving sadly unrealistic.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: June 23, 2014 04:00 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one