Ronaldo is human: You can hardly feel sorry for anyone who makes piles of money, dates super models and has the world at his feet. At the same time, spare a thought for Cristiano Ronaldo. Working on a bum left leg, the Real Madrid star tried to carry his team in Brazil, and he did supply us with the odd flash of brilliance. His incredible cross for Portugal’s late equalizer versus the United States was the greatest individual piece of skill witnessed a this tournament. His goal against Ghana sunk the Africans on Thursday and sealed a second-round berth for the Americans. But there was no celebration afterwards, only a soured look of resignation, and the realization that even he can only do so much.
Now comes all the petty revelling in his “failure,” and the criticism that if he were truly a great player he would have been able to single-handedly lift Portugal to glory. That’s simply too much to ask of any player, including Ronaldo. He’s not a super hero. He’s human, mortal. Flesh and blood, like you and I. As far as his legacy goes, it remains intact. He’s one of the best players of his generation, and among the best ever. Failure to win the World Cup doesn’t change that.
USA beats the odds: It was a frank admission made by two of the leading soccer journalists from the United States. On a recent trip to Toronto, both told this correspondent that they felt Jurgen Klinsmann’s side had no chance of advancing out of a group that included Germany, Ghana and Portugal. The were so confident that they didn’t even bother to make travel plans and hotel arrangements for the second half of the World Cup. No doubt they’ll be consulting Expedia or Hotels.com for cheap flights and accommodations after the States finished second in Group G behind the Germans. Thursday was hardly a vintage performance from the Americans; they withstood the unrelenting pressure applied by the Germans and conceded just one goal, but offered ittle going forward. The definitive moment didn’t occur in the rain in Recife, but in Brasilia, where Cristiano Ronaldo’s late goal gave Portugal a 2-1 lead over Ghana, effectively ending any hope the Africans had of piping the Americans for second place.
Klinsmann’s team was more workmanlike than flashy over the course of the group stage, relying on team unity, rather than individual play from their stars, to collect four points. Clint Dempsey scored big goals, but defender Omar Gonzalez was immense, especially against the Germans. For all the criticism he took for committing the giveaway that led to Portugal’s equalizer, Michael Bradley held things together in midfield with is passing, tackling and distribution. This is a squad that is very much more than the sum of its parts. It was enough to see them through the group stage. To go deep into the tournament, though, they’re going to have to come up with something more.
Algeria makes history: They still remember it in Algeria. It’s been 32 years, but the “non-aggression pact” between then-Wes Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup rankles Algerians to this very day. How could they possibly forget? Algeria pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history when it defeated the Germany of Rummenigge and Breitner to open the group stage. A 3-2 win over Chile to close out the group stage out them in pole position to advance. But because FIFA did not require the final two games of the group stages to be played simultaneously, Austria and West Germany knew that a 1-0 win for the Germans would be enough for both nations to advance to the next round. And so, 24 hours after Algeria vanquished Chile, the two neighbouring countries had their arrangement and stopped playing when the Germans went 1-0 up after 10 minutes. From that point on, the game slowed down to a crawl with neither team seriously venturing forward. The spectators in Gijon booed both countries unmercifully as they carried out this sporting fraud.
Following the Austria-West Germany debacle, FIFA corrected its mistake by introducing a revised system at the 1986 World Cup and future tournaments where the final two games in each group of the opening round were played simultaneously. Too little, too late for Algeria. And the hurt lingered on for over three decades, until Thursday night when Islam Slimani’s header in the 60th minute drew the Africans level with Russia. The remaining 30 minutes of regulation and four minutes of extra time must have felt like an eternity. But when Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakır blew his whistle to signal the end of the game, Gijon was instantly forgotten. It’s no longer about the tortured past for Algeria. It’s about the promise of better days ahead.
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Game within the game
One of the major knocks on Portugal through its first two games was that they had to get Cristiano Ronaldo more involved. Whether that criticism was fair or not, nobody could argue he wasn’t “involved” against Ghana (see map below). The Real Madrid star hit the crossbar in the fifth minute and ended up registering six shots on target, including the winner in the 80th minute. Ronaldo benefitted from the play of defender William Carvalho (drafted into midfield), Ruben Amorim and Joao Moutinho, who provided Portugal a solid base in the centre of the park.
Alexander Kokorin’s header against Algeria in the sixth minute was one of the best of the competition. Dmitri Kombarov found some pace down the left flank and floated an inch-perfect cross into the box. Kokorin timed his run perfectly and rose majestically in the air to emphatically thump it home.
Save of the day
Thibaut Courtios made a great save at the 30-minute mark, the Belgian goalkeeper getting down very low to tip a blast from South Korea’s Ki Sung-yueng wide and out of danger.
Best moment of the day
With his country’s spot in the second round secured, Philipp Lahm could have easily coasted in the final minutes. Instead, the Bayern star tracked back and made a fantastic block on Alejandro Bedoya’s shot to deny the Americans of a tying goal in the dying moments of the match.
He said it
“We deserved more, but that’s football. We are leaving with our heads held high.” – Cristiano Ronaldo
Question of the day
Tweet of the day
John Boye sliced an attempted clearence into his own net. The Waltons won't be happy with that.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo: Capped off a disappointing tournament with a game-winning goal that sealed a second-round berth for the United States. 2) Thomas Muller: The Bayern Munich star gave the U.S. defence problems with his movement off the ball and, of course, he scored 3) Islam Slimani: He scored the most important goal in the history of Algerian soccer to send his country through to the knockout.