Cristiano Ronaldo finally scored at the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Thursday, but it was nowhere near enough to help his nation through to the last 16.
Portugal beat Ghana 2-1 in their final group game, but the disastrous defeat against Germany and failure to beat United States meant Portugal were eliminated on goal difference, finishing third in Group G.
It brings an end to their tournament and sends Ronaldo home with the knowledge that he was unable to have any kind of impact in Brazil, at the end of a season where he was undoubtedly the best player in the world and at his peak age to demonstrate that at the World Cup.
He'll likely never manage to get anywhere close to World Cup glory now, and although he was far from his own best performances, the poor set-up of the Portuguese side has been a much bigger contributing factor.
Prolonged Portuguese Problems
The national side has had, in recent times, one really good tournament at the World Cup, when they reached the semifinals in 2006. They ended fourth that year but failed to get out of the groups in '86, '02 and now in 2014. Portugal reached the round of 16 in 2010 and didn't qualify at all in '90, '94 or '98.
All told, it's a largely poor record punctuated by that one run in Germany.
They have struggled for a regular, reliable goalscorer since the departure from the football scene of Pauleta, while a string of names at big domestic clubs have perpetually struggled at major tournaments. This time around, a red card for Pepe and an injury to Fabio Coentrao hardly helped matters.
Slow tempo in their play and a fear of being too expansive also seem to be problems that contribute to Portugal's regular tournament downfall.
Questions also need to be asked of the manager's approach and selections: Nani was woeful throughout yet played each game, while there clearly needed to be an earlier change to the midfield trio. Playing all three goalkeepers during the tournament also wasn't ideal, though it couldn't be helped after Beto's late injury.
Ronaldo vs. Messi vs. Neymar
Because Ronaldo is, well, Ronaldo, questions will be asked of him as much as of the team as a whole.
In truth, he was well off the pace and poor in his execution throughout the tournament. Naturally, Germany dominated to the extent that he was marginalised in the first game, but even then his set pieces, off-ball movement and shooting accuracy were poor.
Ronaldo had more shots than anybody on the pitch against Germany (seven) and United States (seven), but he only hit the target on three occasions from those two matches. Against Ghana, only Asamoah Gyan (nine) had more than Ronaldo (eight)—though he did score the winner in this match. As per WhoScored.com, Ronaldo has taken more shots than any other player in the tournament so far.
FTBpro (@FTBpro) June 26, 2014
He also missed two very presentable headed opportunities.
All told, his cross for the late equaliser vs. USA and the goal against Ghana were as much as Ronaldo offered the tournament.
Global rivals Neymar and Lionel Messi have similar scrutiny upon them, and both have been in under-performing sides so far, but both of them have also scored four goals and dragged their countries through the group stages and into the last 16.
At what point does it become less of a Portugal issue and more to do with Ronaldo not turning up in Brazil?
Ronaldo will be 33 years old when the next World Cup rolls around in Russia, equal to the eldest member of the Portugal squad in this tournament, Ricardo Costa. He'll by no means be "too old," being the ridiculously fit and in-shape player that he is, but by the same token he will not be as effective.
Pace and power, two hallmarks of his game, will almost certainly decrease between now and then, which is what made Brazil 2014 such an important tournament for the Real Madrid star.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the only player to score in Euro 2004, World Cup 2006, Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012 & World Cup 2014.— Epic Football (@TheEpicFootball) June 26, 2014
The Portugal squad as a whole needs something of an overhaul before the next World Cup, if new talent is coming through and seen as good enough. This current 23 contains a total of just two players who are aged 22 or under, while only Nelson Oliveira would have added to that criteria out of regular recent players who were left out.
By all the usual standards of guesswork and predictions, this was Ronaldo's big chance to have an impact on the world stage. Both he and Portugal have fallen mightily short, and it's an early flight home as a result.
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