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Hollow victory for Ronaldo and Portugal as World Cup dream dies

2-1 victory over Ghana not enough to prevent both sides being eliminated

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo shows his disappointment after the victory over Ghana in Brasilia. Despite their win, Portugal have been eliminated from the tournament. Photo: Jorge Silva/Reuters

Portugal 2 Ghana 1

We were prepared for the highest of drama, but in the end we got just a children’s portion of about 20 minutes. Not enough to satisfy the ache.

Twelve minutes into the second half, in the blink of an eye, Germany had gone a goal ahead in Recife and Ghana had equalised here, and you felt the gods might be cooking up a piece of theatre that would complement the already captivating action of Group G.

In the end Portugal were not good enough to win it by the number of goals they needed, and Ghana did not have their heads screwed on long enough after several days of outlandish off-field shenanigans.

The admirable Asamoah Gyan became the highest scoring African in World Cup history, and Cristiano Ronaldo got on the scoresheet on an occasion when he might have got three or four goals. But we are clutching at straws with these details on a day when two sides that ought to have done better waved the World Cup goodbye.

Rich postscript

Hours before the match the suspension of two of Ghana’s star players, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, had added a rich postscript to the farce of the previous day, when a Ghanaian government consignment of more than €2 million in player appearance money landed in Brasilia.

Muntari, who was suspended for this game anyway, was punished for an alleged “unprovoked physical attack” on a Ghanaian FA executive committee member – a blazer, in common parlance.

Boateng’s offence was what the FA deemed “vulgar verbal insults” of coach James Appiah. Afterwards Boateng told a German magazine that the words were something like: “F*** off”. This was the kind of madness we were dealing with.

In terms of the on-field action, you could see Fatawu Dauda’s tremendous save from a Ronaldo header on 19 minutes as marking the true start of the action. Before then the worst fears about Ghana’s preparation were being played out.

Slow to the tackle and on the ball, there was little sign of the dynamism that so nearly scuppered Germany and Portugal looked more focused and more threatening.

That had a lot to do with Ronaldo looking fitter than at any previous time here. After five minutes he nearly gave his side a spectacular lead with a shot from the right touchline that Dauda, backpedalling furiously, watched come down off the underside of the bar.

A very poor tackle by Ghana’s defender John Boye (pictured on Brazilian television earlier in the day kissing a bundle of the cash that had just arrived by plane) on Ronaldo just outside the box after 10 minutes gave the Real Madrid player chance to test Dauda, which he did. Then after half an hour Boye sliced calamitously into his own net – a feat he almost replicated before half-time.

Monaco’s Joao Moutinho had a big part in the own-goal with a brilliant piece of skill at the edge of the Ghana box before he set Miguel Veloso free down the left. Veloso had already been scampering dangerously up that side and linking well with Ronaldo, and this time his cross was skewed horribly by Boye over Dauda’s head and into the far corner off the underside of the bar.

It was a nasty blow for Ghana because by then they had woken up. A minute after Dauda’s brilliant save from Ronaldo’s point-blank header, Asamoah Gyan had a fine chance in the Portuguese box, but his right-foot shot was well saved by Beto. Gyan went close again with a header minutes later.

Curiously flat

But the action was, in general, far from fast and furious. Indeed there were chances, but the game was curiously flat, as though neither side truly believed they could qualify.

Asamoah Gyan has long been a fabulous leader of this Ghana team though, and it was he who got Ghana into the match in dramatic fashion. News had just started filtering through seconds earlier of Thomas Muller’s goal in Recife when Ghana’s tireless playmaker Andre Ayew played in Kwadwo Asamoah, who was having a fine game, up the left.

What happened next was astonishing – a cross with the outside of the left foot with the kind of skill that in some senses reminded you of Robin van Persie’s header against Spain. It was that supernaturally good. The ball arrowed on to Gyan’s head and he planted it home.

The audience rubbed their hands. But when Majeed Waris put a header from a similar range wide only minutes later you already started to doubt Ghana’s chances. And rightly so. An awful flap by the previously immaculate Dauda allowed Ronaldo to drive the ball into the corner of the net, and in the final stages it was Portugal – and Ronaldo especially – who should have scored more.

A competition CR7 will be only too glad to forget.