Ronaldo lights up Nani gloom
Cristiano-mania hits town as dream ends for former United pal
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