Cristiano Ronaldo certainly could have had a hat trick, maybe even four or five goals Wednesday afternoon in Brasilia, but the world’s top star finished with just one. It was good enough to give Portugal a 2-1 victory over Ghana and it allowed the United States men’s national team to move into the Round of 16 despite their loss to Germany in Recife. But it left Portugal well short of the decisive victory they required.
For Portugal, which needed a big win to advance, this match will carry echoes of 2002 when they were in a similar situation in Incheon, South Korea. That night a draw would have been enough, but they lost to the Korea Republic and were kayoed from the competition even though the USA was beaten by Poland.
”We knew we had to score three goals and were depending on the result of the Germany game and we couldn’t do that,” Ronaldo said after his most lively performance of the tournament. ”We deserved more, but that’s football. We are leaving with our heads held high.”
Ronaldo’s decisive goal Wednesday came after the Ghanaian defense made a complete mess of a Nani cross in the 80th minute. Miscommunication between keeper Fatua Dauda and his defense led to them hacking the cross high in front own goal. Dauda could do more than two-hand the ball out from under his bar, directly to Ronaldo alone eight yards out. The Real Madrid star, who had seen Dauda beat him and the crossbar beat him, slammed this chance home for his only goal of this World Cup.
Ghana had battled back to a 1-1 draw in the 57th minute when their star, Asamoah Gyan, came free at the back post to head home from Kwadwo Asamoah’s cross. At that point, with the Americans trailing in Recife, Ghana knew that another goal would be enough for them to reach the Round of 16 and they turned up the pressure for the next 20 minutes.
Majeed Waris, however, squandered the best chance they created when he put a six-yard header wide of the right post. Their other attempts did not really test Portuguese keeper Beto and the tide turned when Ronaldo scored. He could have scored twice more in stoppage time, first flicking a five yard chance over the bar when it would have been easier to tap it in, then seeing Dauda deny him again from a wide open look no more than 10 yards out.
Portugal was the dominant force throughout the first half, but a combination of saves from Dauda and some near misses meant that they did not reach the interval with the commanding lead they needed to truly enhance their qualifying chances. The only goal of the first 45 minutes was a John Boye own goal, although Joao Moutinho could take all the credit for creating it in the 31st minute. After a Ghana attack broke down when an attempted cross struck referee Nawaf Shukralla in the head, Portugal picked up possession and went the other way with Ronaldo striding down the middle at full speed.
The Ghanaian defense managed to cut him off, but Moutinho kept the move alive with a tricky bit of control that got him past Boye on the edge of the box. Moutinho then found Miguel Veloso on the left, whose cross — intended for Moutinho — was sliced into the far top corner by the unfortunate Boye.
That own goal could very well have made it 3-0 for Portugal at that point, but the crossbar and a brilliant reaction save by Dauda had denied Ronaldo two legitimate scoring chances in the first 19 minutes. After that Dauda parried another Ronaldo in the 32nd minute and watched with relief when a shot from Ruben Amorim whistled wide of his right-hand post.
Thanks to all the missed opportunities, the Portuguese are headed home.
”That’s not the only, single or main reason (Portugal is out),” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. ”We should look at it in a more comprehensive way, not just at individuals.”
The result brought to an end a typically eventful few weeks in Brazil for the Ghanaians, who were part of thrilling games against the United States and Germany before their campaign ended in turmoil on and off the pitch. Their players took to the field in the Brazilian capital amid a dispute with the country’s football federation over alleged unpaid World Cup bonuses. Adding to the chaos, two of the team’s star players – Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng – were booted out of the squad hours before Thursday’s kickoff for disciplinary reasons.
”I don’t think it had an impact on the game,” said Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah, who confirmed that his players received their appearance-fee payments before kickoff as requested. "We had our chances but couldn’t take them.”