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Ronaldo finds team-mates are too heavy to carry . . .

A LIGHT bandage poking just above the top of his wine-coloured left sock hinted at the knee problems that have interfered with Cristiano Ronaldo's preparations for the World Cup.

One man band, but Cristiano Ronaldo could not inspire victory. Picture: Getty Sport
One man band, but Cristiano Ronaldo could not inspire victory. Picture: Getty Sport

There is just no sticking plaster for the Portugal team he is surrounded by, though.

Their starting XI last night may have consisted of the same fellows who opened against Spain in the semi-finals of Euro 2012, losing out on penalty kicks, but two years is evidently a long time in football.

This lot may yet be able to get themselves through the upcoming group fixtures against limited opposition in the United States and Ghana, but, on this form, they look unlikely to go anywhere of note in this competition.

There are a number of players whose best days appear behind them, too many lacking confidence in the wake of mixed campaigns with their clubs and too many unwilling to - or incapable of - stepping out of Ronaldo's shadow to take responsibility themselves.

Add all that to the unique brand of idiocy and low-level thuggery that in which the now-suspended Pepe specialises and you have a unit that somehow manages to make the best player in world football look demoralised and ordinary.

Normally, Ronaldo's studiously primped hair barely moves an inch during the most torrid of tussles. Here, it was all over the place, flopping over his brow and stuck to his forehead, as he sloped off the field at half-time in the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador yesterday. Perhaps it was the inevitable end result of attempting to pull it out in frustration.

Ronaldo's working life at Real Madrid revolves around shining more brightly than his rivals at Barcelona, Lionel Messi and Neymar. He has, unquestionably, succeeded in that not-inconsiderable task over the last 12 months.

Sadly, he appears to have little chance of repeating the dose on the biggest stage of all. Neymar was the hero for Brazil in their opening 3-1 victory over Croatia. Messi lit up a largely underwhelming first appearance with one trademark display of goalscoring genius as Argentina sneaked past Bosnia 2-1.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was reduced to little more than a cameo role in a horror show that delivered his country's worst defeat in a major competition. Just like Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010, the World Cup threatens, already, to look as though it isn't quite for him.

He started brightly by surging past two men to set up an early chance for centre-forward Hugo Almeida - poor before going off injured to be replaced by the equally unimpressive Eder - then releasing a low shot that demanded a save from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

However, he would become increasingly isolated, playing the entire 90 minutes when it might have been wiser for his coach Paulo Bento to give him a rest.

In truth, he was let down by so many of those around him. It started with Joao Pereira tugging Mario Goetze in the area and allowing Thomas Mueller, fielded up front and unleashing merry hell, to score the first of his hat trick from the penalty spot.

Mats Hummels was permitted to jog into a box jampacked with defenders and head home a Toni Kroos corner for the second, but Portugal still had chances. They just did not have anyone with sufficient self-belief to express themselves outwith the radar of their captain.

Nani, barely spotted at Manchester United in the closing months of the season, was released down the right by an excellent pass from Miguel Veloso. He had a chance to home in on goal. Instead, he played an absolutely appalling pass behind Ronaldo and the danger was cleared. Within seconds, Fabio Coentrao, later taken off with a leg knock, had a clear sight of goal after taking a ball from Joao Moutinho. Inexplicably, he tried to feed it to Ronaldo, who was standing in an offside position.

Diego Maradona may disagree, but one player cannot take a team through a World Cup on his own. Having failed to get the ball to him when he had moved into decent areas, Ronaldo's team-mates often insisted on trying to get him into the game when he was in no real position to be of influence.

They must realise everything cannot go through their No.7 no matter how mercurial he is.

Nothing will be going past Pepe for the foreseeable future following a trademark display of the stupidity that is too often overlooked by officials in Spain, where he plays beside Ronaldo at Real Madrid.

He foolishly flicked a hand at Mueller, who was theatrical in the extreme when going to ground. Bending down afterwards and headbutting the German, albeit without any terrific force, was just ridiculous.

The Serbian referee, Milorad Mazic, had no option but to send him off and leave Portugal to run around a man down in the near 90-degree heat for almost an hour ahead of their next game in the jungle sweatbox of Manaus.

Germany looked fast, efficient and pretty solid. Mueller, a born winner and the epitome of Teutonic strength and aggression, could be an interesting answer for them as the figurehead of the forward line.

This was certainly a pleasing start for their coach, Joachim Low.

The only positive Portugal can take is that Ronaldo looks fit enough to continue playing despite his difficulties with tendonitis.

The big question is whether his bashed-up body can bear the stress of carrying his team-mates.

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