Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal sputters in its World Cup opener against Germany
SALVADOR, Brazil – Portugal's start to the World Cup couldn't have been much worse: a 4-0 loss to Germany, a lackluster performance from Cristiano Ronaldo, a key defender sent off and another probably out of the tournament.
The question facing Portugal at the championships was always simple: can it win games without Ronaldo at his best?
After the humiliation by Germany in Salvador on Monday, the answer was clear: with Ronaldo not looking anything like the world player of the year, Portugal didn't look anything like the fourth-ranked team in the world.
And, the traditional lack of discipline — the first-half sending off of defender Pepe for a mindless headbutt means a Portuguese player has now been red-carded in four consecutive World Cups — bodes ill for the team with high ambitions.
During the match, Ronaldo was shaking his head, arguing with referees and teammates and spending plenty of time just strolling on the pitch. The Portugal captain had only two shots on target, one a free kick in stoppage time.
For someone who claims to be 100 percent fit despite a recent knee injury, Ronaldo's performance signaled otherwise.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento blamed Serbian referee Milorad Mazic for at least a part of Portugal's troubles, saying he was "biased toward Germany." He said that both the 11th-minute penalty and the sending off of Pepe "were too harsh."
"I never said that it was the referee only, but also our scoring inefficiency," Bento said.
He said Ronaldo's lackluster performance was not because of his lack of preparedness.
"Cristiano played the whole match," Bento said. "We are told that he is well physically."
The German defenders nullified Ronaldo by making it hard for him to receive the ball.
"Our goal was to disturb him when he is getting the ball," Germany coach Joachim Loew said. "(Jerome) Boateng did that very well."
Although he is Portugal's all-time record scorer with 49 goals in 111 appearances, Ronaldo scored just twice in the last two World Cups — a penalty against Iran in 2006 and the last of Portugal's seven goals against North Korea four years ago.
To make things worse for Portugal, defender Fabio Coentrao and striker Hugo Almeida suffered what Bento said were serious muscle injuries that could sideline both players in Portugal's upcoming group matches, against the United States and Ghana.
"We should try to win the next two games so they can play in the next round," Bento said.