Manaus: With around 25 seconds left on the clock and Portugal staring at elimination, the world’s Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo finally made his mark on the world’s greatest stage.
Trailing 1-2 to Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA, Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal were facing a humiliation.
However, after USA midfielder Michael Bradley lost possession in the centre circle in the 95th minute, Ronaldo broke down the right to deliver a sensational cross that allowed substitute Silvestre Varela to head powerfully past Tim Howard at the far post.
The goal gave Ronaldo and Co. a point, but more importantly, kept Portugal’s hopes alive in the World Cup. They are still in with a chance of making the last 16 provided they beat Ghana in their final match by a big margin and the match between Germany and the United States doesn’t end in a draw.
Ronaldo, though, remarkably admitted that he never believed his ‘average’ side could win the World Cup.
“Maybe, we’re an average team,” Ronaldo told a website. “It would be a lie to say that we are a top team. We had many limitations in the match against USA such as we were without Pepe (who was suspended) and the injured Fabio Coentrao. We had a very limited team and we were not at the best level. This does not enable you to beat top teams.
“There are no miracles. We knew we would have a tough group, with perhaps teams better than us. I never thought we could be world champions, we have to be humble and know our level. I’m not a hypocrite, I never thought we could win the tournament.
“It was just a make-believe dream that Portugal could be world champions, because everything is possible in football. But other countries have better teams. Maybe they deserve it more than me,” he added.
The 29-year-old said he did not want to use his injury problems as an excuse for his below-par performance.
Ronaldo has been suffering with a tendinosis issue in his left knee for months, an injury which has troubled him since the end of the domestic season.
“I don’t want to use my injuries as an excuse… I don’t want to justify myself by talking about my physical problems,” he said.
“I’m here, I’m fighting, I’m trying to do my best, I’m running, and obviously it’s no use talking about my issues.
“Every day there’s something new in the papers about my knee. That’s why I don’t want to justify myself. I’m here body and soul to help the national team.”
Ronaldo also admitted Portugal looked tired against Jurgen Klinsmann’s men in the humid conditions of the Amazon on Sunday.
“Obviously, we were tired… We had a very long season, but every team here did as well. They were also playing the Champions League and cups and leagues, so it’s something everyone else could point out as well.
“I don’t think we played badly because our players lacked attitude. Every team comes here to win. We knew we weren’t favourites, we have never been.”
However, coach Paolo Bento refused to criticise either a weary-looking Ronaldo or any of the other players for a lacklustre second-half performance in the second-half in the game against the USA.
“Ronaldo was fit, he played the full 90 minutes and he didn't seem to have any problem,” Bento told a news conference.
“This is a delicate moment for all our players. They are all a bit sad now and this is not the moment to criticise individuals.
“Criticise me as a coach if you will, we had a chance to get a result here today, we didn’t but we have to move on and try to beat Ghana.”
Bento also said neither Ronaldo nor any of his teammates had struggled in the humid conditions.
“We were fine physically, it was more the mental aspect that determined the course of the game,” he said.
“We were a goal up and then fell behind. In the end, we got an equaliser that leaves us in with a mathematical chance to progress.
“We dominated the first 45 minutes and should have scored more goals but the situation changed in the second half. We never lost control of the match although we didn’t dominate the whole game and failed to contain their right wing.
“The second USA goal came through our mistakes and in the end I guess a draw was a fair result although it left us in a very difficult situation,” he concluded.