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Ronaldo finally comes alive

22/06/2010 08:37:04 AM Comments (0)

Cristiano Ronaldo is the man everyone usually calls upon to carry Portugal. On Monday, it was the team that lifted one of the world's greatest players.

Sullen, slow, and even petulant during a first half when Portugal found North Korea tough to overcome, the Real Madrid forward was inspired to his best performance so far at the World Cup when his teammates started racking up the goals in the second period.

Often selfish on the field, Ronaldo was man of the match in Monday's 7-0 win but handed over the award to teammate Tiago, because even he could see the midfielder deserved it.

"Three or four players of my team deserved to win this award too. Especially Tiago," said Ronaldo before handing the trophy over.

Still, all of Portugal will be relieved that Ronaldo is scoring again for the national side after 16 months without a goal in the dark red shirt of his country.

He broke his barren streak three minutes before the end with the sixth goal, the most bizarre of the afternoon.

After a defensive blunder, the ball skidded free and suddenly the ball looped onto Ronaldo's neck and over his head as he ran toward goal. The ball then luckily dropped right into his path for a tap in and his breakthrough goal.

One of the world's best and most highly paid players, Ronaldo had not scored for his nation in a competitive match since the 2008 European Championship. Even the great Eusebio held up his thumb in appreciation Monday.

"It was important for him to score," coach Carlos Queiroz said.

His need showed early in the match.

Ronaldo had the first attempt on goal with a third-minute deflection which was easily saved, he soon fell back into a slow stupor.

Often he was double marked by a super-defensive North Korea, but even when he tried some of his famous dribbles to get past a defender he was robbed of the ball. At the other side, on the right, Simao Sabrosa had a bigger influence with his fakes and speed.

Typically, Ronaldo had no impact on any of Portugal's most dangerous moves: not Ricardo Carvalho's seventh-minute header onto the post, nor when Raul Meireles latched on to a deep pass from Tiago to score the opener.

Often he was walking when his teammates were running, uninvolved in passing or creating space for other attackers.

Already burdened with a yellow card from the first game, he still got involved with Chilean referee Pablo Pozo. A second yellow card would have forced him out of the final first-round game against Brazil.

In the second half though, he finally became unstoppable, buoyed on by a team playing with almost Brazilian flair, freedom and happiness.

Around the hour mark, he started spreading passes and assists around, just like he has done for Real Madrid and Manchester United over recent seasons. His 70th-minute drive was hit with such ferocity that the water splashed off the ball like a shower when it hit the bar.

Then he assisted on Portugal's fourth goal with a pinpoint pass from the left.

By the end, he played like Queiroz wants all his players to perform.

"We need to fight for each ball, each pass, each duel," said Queiroz, who said he wanted a similar effort on Friday against a Brazil side that has already qualified for the second round. "Without that attitude it is not possible to build up a consistent and winning team. It is also important they feel free to express the football they have inside them.

"When we can add these things to goals it is brilliant, it is really fantastic."

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