BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Coming off his most successful season at club level, this was supposed to be the World Cup where Cristiano Ronaldo underlined his new-found superiority over great rival Lionel Messi and his status as the game's best player.
It hasn't quite worked out that way.
Hindered not just by a left leg injury but also the poor quality of the Portugal teammates alongside him, Ronaldo exits the World Cup with one goal and some below-par performances — by his standards — from three group matches.
His lone goal was the winner in a 2-1 victory over Ghana on Thursday that failed to stop Portugal slipping out of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Messi has led Argentina into the last 16 with four goals, the joint-highest tally at the World Cup. After losing his FIFA Player of the Year crown to Ronaldo, Messi is set to have the last laugh in Brazil.
Ronaldo cut a thoroughly frustrated figure during and after the Ghana match.
Throwing up his arms, kicking fresh air and often standing with his hands on his hips, the Real Madrid superstar didn't hide his unhappiness with his teammates.
But they weren't solely to blame — in the white of Madrid, Ronaldo has been slotting away the kind of gilt-edged chances that fell to him at Brasilia's Estadio Nacional.
There was a header from six yards out in the 19th minute that, although well-saved by goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda, should have been dispatched. Then came two more clear openings for Ronaldo in second-half injury time, one he bundled over the bar and the other he shot straight at Dauda in a one-on-one chance.
"We created many opportunities but we could not finish them," Ronaldo said.
After scoring what proved to be the winning goal, Ronaldo simply turned round and trotted back to the halfway line. Rarely can a winner have been celebrated with such little joy.
When the final whistle was blown, Ronaldo — with his head down — made a hasty retreat toward the tunnel, only to run into a number of Ghana squad members who shook hands and embraced the Portugal captain.
Accepting his man-of-the-match award, Ronaldo — with strapping around his right knee and moving gingerly — barely raised a smile.
"We are leaving with our heads held high," Ronaldo said. It didn't appear that way.
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