World Cup - International

Portugal draws Ivory Coast; Ronaldo draws ire

The careful opening-round play continued today with two teams in a mutual bind. Portugal and Cote D’Ivoire (it means “Coast of Ivy” or something) eyed each other up in the shared knowledge that each was the other’s only threat in the race to get out of Group G.

To clarify—as we all know, in the case of this group, G stands for Death. To say, therefore, that the Portuguese and the Ivorians are the only ones standing in each other’s way assumes that Brazil is the most successful soccer-playing nation on Earth, and that North Korea is…North Korea. To accept that premise makes the Elephants and the Seleccao the most evenly matched opponents in the bunch. The battle for second was on.

And as is group-stage custom, neither team brought its “A” game, preferring instead to play defense first, offense rarely. As if to tease the hearts of those of us who expected such caginess, underwear model Cristiano Ronaldo displayed a moment of ferocity early in the first half, one evocative of his best days as the most feared man in red or white. Around the 11 minute mark, he found himself not particularly open or free, but with just enough of a view to feel like smashing one of his gasp-inducing long shots towards the panicked African GK. Fortunately for the back-up home team (South Africa fans being willing to switch allegiances the moment Bafana Bafana bite the dust), the bullet ricocheted off the post. It was no less threatening for having been an inch off target, and for a moment memories of the 2009 Champion’s League semi-final against FC Porto flashed in the minds of those who know that when Ronaldo takes an unusually long strike at an unusually inopportune time, he’s often damn right to do so.

But such excitement was to be scarce, understandably so for two teams with everything to lose by losing. The most intense drama of the first half had more to do with Ronaldo’s perceived penchant for “simulation” than with his gunslinging goal-threatening. Around 7 minutes, an extremely light sweep of the toe from behind sent the Portuguese captain rolling across the pitch as if his Armani bikini briefs were on fire, and the ref bought it. Didier Zokora, unfortunately the only Didier on the pitch at the time, received a yellow card. The subsequent free kick was underwhelming, but the incident set the table for what was to follow a few minutes later.

Close to the box, Ronaldo was performing his usual bewildering feats of dribbling as he fought his way through a pack of rabid Elephants. Out of the ether came Guy Demel, streaking onto the scene at ground level to send Ronaldo ass-over-tincups in one of the most clear and blatant fouls in the tournament thus far. Referee Jorge Larrionda was not as impressed this time, or maybe he was, but Demel’s immediate haranguing of Ronaldo and their subsequent dick-swinging quickly became the issue at hand. As Demel chest-bumped and Ronaldo shoved back, their mutual tirade of expletives (in English, to the delight of slow-motion lip readers across America), was interrupted by Larrionda as he showed the same yellow card to both men simultaneously. He only just stopped short of grabbing the two by the ears and hustling them to the principal’s office. It was yet another example of unfair anti-Ronaldo-ism that plagues the sport.

Indulge me while I address this: Cristiano Ronaldo deserves every accolade he gets. He’s just that good. Yes, he’s pretty, yes he spends a lot of time in magazine spreads.  Yes, he has banged both a Kardashian and a Hilton, neither of which is forgivable. But he is also one of the greatest athletes on this planet, and the most entertaining to boot. It may irk some to watch his jet-setting, but it’s a privilege to watch him play. As for his supposed scuba credentials, what I most often observe is opponents endlessly targeting Ronaldo for fouls and harassment, safe in the knowledge that he’s perceived as a whiner and a diver. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; unable to stop him fairly, they knock him around. He responds by not trying to stay up anymore, and utilizing his ferocious free kicks instead. Add to which the fact that he’s usually dribbling at speeds and at angles that don’t exactly keep him rooted to the ground, and you can start to understand why the man goes down faster than Lindsay Lohan at a crack dealer’s convention.

Thank you.  Moving on…

The second half was a bit more lively in terms of play, especially when Didier Drogba stepped on to the pitch, to the rapture of the vuvuzelas. For the most part, though, the game left both goalies with little to worry about, as both defenses played the central role in the match. While Ronaldo characteristically displayed a few moments of fire, even the injured Didier Drogba did little to wake up the offensive aspect of the clash. If anyone, Gervinho was the most dangerous Ivorian on the pitch in a showdown of patience, tactics, and restraint.

One Comment

  1. matt murphy says:

    conor, i agree with you that ronaldo is a tremendous athlete and fascinating to watch. and that he deserves a bit of slack for having people constantly swinging axes at his ankles. but his desire to get the call no matter how gratuitously untouched he may be makes him deserve all derision in my mind.

    granted, he is not alone — many others choose to try and impress the ref rather than the fans. i’m italian by heritage so i root for a whole team of them every time the azzurri step out on the pitch. but i wish they and ronaldo and the rest would just stick to impressing the fans (or the ladies) than the refs.

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