Ron­aldo lights up Nani gloom

Cris­tiano-ma­nia hits town as dream ends for for­mer United pal

Daily Mail - - World Cup Countdown - MICHAEL WALKER re­ports from Jo­han­nes­burg m.walker@dai­ly­

BEAR­ING in mind that Cris­tiano Ron­aldo can be seen pos­ing, six-pack out, in red Ar­mani un­der­pants on the front cover of Van­ity Fair mag­a­zine, it i s per­haps provoca­tive to say that he has had a quiet build-up to the World Cup. But if that had been the case, it changed yes­ter­day.

In the un­likely set­ting of the Wan­der­ers cricket ground in Jo­han­nes­burg, Ron­aldo sparked an out­break of hys­te­ria akin to Beatle­ma­nia.

The for­mer Manch­ester United star ap­peared just past the hour mark in Por­tu­gal’s 3-0 vic­tory over Mozam­bique and the noise, al­ready re­lent­less due to South Africa’s vu­vuzela phe­nom­e­non, in­creased markedly.

The two coun­tries, linked from colo­nial days, and in foot­ball via Euse­bio, played for the Good­will Cup in an at­mos­phere rau­cous with good­will. At full-time Ron­aldo, Por­tu­gal’s cap­tain now, lifted the cup, waved to the crowd (right) and was then sub­merged in a scrum of pho­tog­ra­phers.

These were the sort of im­ages that FIFA, the tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers — not for­get­ting Por­tu­gal — will have been re­lieved and de­lighted to see.

Ex­tra sat­is­fac­tion will have been de­rived as this came hours af­ter the World Cup lost an­other of its po­ten­tial stars, and an­other Manch­ester United player, when Nani with­drew from the Por­tu­gal squad with a dam­aged col­lar bone af­ter at­tempt­ing an ac­ro­batic shot in train­ing.

That news broke early in the af­ter­noon, and was a de­press­ing ad­di­tion to Rio Fer­di­nand, Michael Essien, Michael Bal­lack, and pos­si­bly Didier Drogba and Ar­jen Robben. In those cir­cum­stances, the tour­na­ment needs all the star­dust it can get.

Thank­fully at this mag­nif­i­cent tree-lined ground, some ap­peared. Like the ar­rival of Diego Maradona at Ar­gentina’s train­ing ses­sion in Pre­to­ria on Sun­day, this acted as an­other wave of the an­tic­i­pa­tion now break­ing on the shores of this World Cup.

In one way it was un­fore­seen. Over the past few weeks Ron­aldo has not re­ceived the acres of cov­er­age de­voted glob­ally to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Drogba or even the Jab­u­lani ball.

But when six min­utes af­ter re­plac­ing Si­mao to par­tic­i­pate in a con­vinc­ing sec­ond-half Por­tuguese per­for­mance, Ron­aldo lined up a 35-yard free-kick, the Jab­u­lani had lift-off and so did the Wan­der­ers sta­dium.

Nani was here to wit­ness his col­leagues’ ef­fort but it was a bleak scene. Nani re­mained in his track­suit. He has, of course, blos­somed at Old Traf­ford last sea­son in the wake of Ron­aldo’s de­par­ture to Real Madrid. The in­jury rep­re­sents a se­ri­ous blow to man­ager Car­los Queiroz, an­other Por­tuguese f oot­ball man born in Mozam­bique. Por­tu­gal, af­ter all, are i n the same group as Brazil and Ivory Coast. Los­ing Nani was not part of the game­plan. But for Nani, read Danny. That is Danny Miguel, a 26-year-old at­tack­ing mid­fielder who opened the scor­ing from a typ­i­cal pass by Deco. Danny’s fin­ish, beat­ing the hith­erto rock-solid Mozam­bique goal­keeper Ot­shudi Lama, re­vealed com­po­sure.

In Au­gust 2008, when the euro was a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion, as was from Sport­ing Lis­bon to Zenit St Peters­burg, the most ex­pen­sive player ever in Rus­sia.

In­jury has re­stricted him to 28 ap­pear­ances over that pe­riod, but Danny was a lively pres­ence here. He set up the sec­ond goal for Hugo Almeida, who also got the third.

That came from a spill by Lama. But it was an un­der­stand­able mis­take as Ron­aldo had just swung his Nike-spon­sored right foot at the adi­das Jab­u­lani ball from 35 yards. What Ron­aldo thinks of the Jab­u­lani has not been heard yet. His com­ments in gen­eral have been short, one rea­son why his pro­file seems low, but the scale of the re­cep­tion here will have stroked his ego. The most ex­pen­sive player in his­tory, the man with the biggest weekly wage in the game, twin­kled to some ef­fect. Ron­aldo had started on the bench, not far from Euse­bio him­self, also there. That’s a strong bench.

Por­tu­gal were boosted by the work­out. They had fin­ished be­hind Den­mark i n qual­i­fi­ca­tion and reached South Africa via a play-off against Bos­nia. Ron­aldo did not score in qual­i­fi­ca­tion, his last goal was in a friendly 16 months ago. His last com­pet­i­tive goal was at Euro 2008.

He did not score yes­ter­day ei­ther. But on the strip where Michael Ather­ton fa­mously staged his 185 not out act of de­fi­ance in the 1995 Test, Ron­aldo was re­spon­si­ble for some­thing nowhere near as mean­ing­ful, but mem­o­rable all the same.


Happy wan­derer: Ron­aldo savours the at­mos­phere be­fore kick-off

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