Despite a hex, Ronaldo works magic

MARKING RONALDO: US midfielder Graham Zusi (right) and defender Fabian Johnson (extreme left) trying to shackle Portugal's star player Ronaldo (centre) during a Group G match between USA and Portugal at the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Sunday.


    Jun 24, 2014

    Despite a hex, Ronaldo works magic


    THE World Cup arrives every four years and, without fail, it brings a good and, possibly even, true story about a witch doctor.

    This particular witch doctor from Ghana put a curse on the knees of Cristiano Ronaldo in February. These are not just any knees. The reigning World Player of the Year, Ronaldo is so agile and elusive that he is the only man known to have dated Kim Kardashian without marrying her for a reality show.

    The witch doctor claimed that the injury would not heal during the World Cup. Scoff if you will, but, according to news accounts, Ronaldo arrived in Brazil with tendinitis in his left knee.

    His own doctor told a Portuguese newspaper that the injury could threaten Ronaldo's career.

    Despite the brace on his knee, the Americans knew he would play this do-or-die game.

    US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who joined Manchester United along with Ronaldo in 2003, knew he would be dangerous.

    "He's the single hardest-working player I've ever been around, on and off the field," Howard said.

    And that is just talking about his blow dryer.

    The Americans knew they had to stop this dangerous, wounded man.

    Yesterday, they started five midfielders, trying to enhance possession and cut off the supply to Ronaldo. It was an attempt to treat him the way children treat fireflies.

    The man, after all, had scored all four of his team's goals in a two-legged play-off victory over Sweden to qualify for the World Cup. And he led Real Madrid to its 10th European championship.

    But to think Portugal could defeat the United States solely on a gilded performance by Ronaldo, Portugal coach Paulo Bento said, would be a "terrible mistake".

    "I would never put on his shoulders the responsibility of solving our problems," Bento said. As coach, he added, "I have to do that."

    Ronaldo brought the crowd alive with flamboyant dribbling, making the ball stop and start as if it were a student driver with a manual transmission.

    Then, in the fifth minute, a poor clearance by Geoff Cameron left the ball to Nani, Portugal's other wing, who pounced for the goal. Howard's caution was perceptive. Ronaldo was hardly Portugal's only dangerous player.

    As the half wore on, Ronaldo took a theatrical dive, showed frustration at his lack of touches, made a cavorting pass to Nani for a low shot that Howard saved, bounced his own shot to Howard from 30 yards and ballooned a free kick over the crossbar.

    At half-time, Ronaldo changed to a short-sleeved jersey. But he was not sharp. He fell easily in the penalty area, lost the ball, shot well wide on a stab down the right flank, running his hands through his hair in annoyance. Moments later, Jermaine Jones curled a blast inside the far post for the US and the game was tied at 1-1.

    Portugal was frantic now for a win. Ronaldo sprinted just offsides. A cross from Nani eluded him in the penalty area. Matt Besler cut out a pass to Ronaldo and so did Cameron. Then Clint Dempsey chested home what seemed to be the winner for the Americans.

    But Ronaldo was not done. He needed only a moment to show his greatness. Deep into added time, he curved a brilliant cross from the right flank and Varela headed it past Howard to salvage a 2-2 draw.

    Portugal was still alive. Ghana remains, and the witch doctor will need another potion.