Cristiano Ronaldo Provides Moment of Magic to Keep Portugal in World Cup

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 22: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal controls the ball against Jermaine Jones (L) and Kyle Beckerman of the United States during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between the United States and Portugal at Arena Amazonia on June 22, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

It's a theme that's developing throughout this outstanding tournament, as the world's very best players are providing sublime pieces of skill to bail out their respective nations.

Luis Suarez started it off with his strike five minutes from time against England; Lionel Messi then curled a spectacular effort to save Argentina's blushes against the conservative Iran, and now, Cristiano Ronaldo has made a late, significant contribution.

His country was seconds away from being eliminated, and it might turn out to be too little, too late, but for now, Portugal are still in the World Cup.

Ronaldo is clearly still carrying an injury and an extended run in the competition might do more harm than good for the Real Madrid forward, but he knows this is his best opportunity to showcase his ability on the biggest stage.

Inside the opening five minutes, he gave a glimpse of what he can do. His acceleration of pace was quickly followed by a couple of trademark flicks to keep the chasing USA pack at bay.

The move was finished by some clever footwork to retain possession and help build a counterattack.

His performance overall was littered with frustration and not just with his teammates this time; only one of his seven attempts on goal found the target, via FourFourTwo Stats Zone.

"He trains every day with all of us, so Cristiano is fit to play," said midfielder Raul Meireles to the press before the match, via The Associated Press (h/t The Guardian). "That’s all I can say," he strangely added.

That last remark suggests there's more to the story than the Portuguese squad are letting on.

It must be difficult for him to come to terms with his current fitness dilemma, as one of the best players in the world, he has the characteristics to influence any match.

But when your body isn't up to the task, then you have to choose your moments to contribute wisely.

I'm sure it wasn't Ronaldo's intentions to save himself for the fifth minute of stoppage time, but manager Paulo Bento will be glad he did.

Bento's shortcomings tactically were exposed once more as USA continually found joy down Portugal's left-hand side.

It would be easy for the coach to blame injuries in the position for the second match running, but the reality was that it was a problem long before Andre Almeida departed.

Ronaldo's inability to track back saw a consistent wave of attacks down the flank, and even when Bento moved to a 4-4-2, the quandary didn't subside.

"In October 2010 I told him once and that’s it, I would never put on his shoulders, or anybody else, the responsibility to solve the problems," said Bento prior to the game. "The only person that has one individual responsibility is me."

It certainly didn't look that way as Portugal was void of ideas and creativity.

Defensively, they looked nervous once more, but the introduction of William Carvalho to shield the back four did make a difference.

Nani was his usual inconsistent self even though he opened the scoring and hit the post.

Eder was a nuisance and Joao Moutinho was tidy in possession, but it wasn't enough for a team of this calibre.

It needed a superbly whipped ball into the danger area from the current Ballon d'Or winner to rescue the match with an equaliser.

To describe the cross as David Beckham at his best is not doing Ronaldo a disservice but paying homage to the man he replaced at Old Trafford.

Substitute Silvestre Varela did the rest with a powerful header, but the goal was all about the delivery and the circumstances.


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