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Sports News

Goals like socks for World Cup poster boys

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo has compared goals to ketchup though for the Portugal striker and the quintet of poster boys at the World Cup they were more like socks -- lots around but never where you really need them.

Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Kaka sank in a sea of hype after being let down either by their own fitness or their team’s tactics.

Ronaldo was the only one to trouble the scorekeepers and that was a fluky goal in the 7-0 demolition of North Korea that he looked almost embarrassed to celebrate.

World Player of the Year Messi started with an exuberant display against Nigeria when only a stunning performance from goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama denied him at least one goal.

The Argentine’s problems started when coach Diego Maradona left out midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron and brought in another forward, Carlos Tevez, inadvertently cutting off Messi’s supply line in the process.

Messi found himself playing a good 30 meters deeper than he does for Barcelona and was nowhere near as effective. In the 4-0 quarter-final defeat by Germany, Messi at times appeared to be running around in circles.

“His performances got worse as the tournament went on,” wrote columnist Juan Pablo Varsky in Argentine daily La Nacion.

“From the (final group) game against Greece, he dropped further and further back. Germany marked him very well and didn’t foul him one single time.

“South Africa in 2010 is showing us the value of the team as a concept. No individual talent can save you if it does not have the support of a functioning collective unit.”

COMPLETELY ISOLATED

Ronaldo, who in his own words left South Africa a “broken man,” was another who appeared to suffer from his team’s tactics, though in his case because they were too negative rather than too adventurous.

He was left isolated in attack as Portugal opted to play blanket defense except when faced with outsiders North Korea.

Apart from his goal, Ronaldo was only noticed when he was controversially voted man-of-the-match for a lame display against Brazil and when millions of TV viewers got a close-range shot of him spitting after the 1-0 second round defeat by Spain.

Early in the tournament, he came up with his ketchup analogy, saying: “Sometimes as much as you try, they don’t come out, and when they come, many come all at the same time.”

In the event, he barely managed to unscrew the bottle top.

For Kaka, Torres and Rooney, the World Cup seemed a bridge too far after injury-plagued seasons.

Rooney suffered an ankle and then a groin injury in the weeks before the tournament, which may have contributed to his lackluster effort, although being part of an over-hyped but inept England team did not help.

Spain reached the final in spite of rather than because of Torres, who tried hard but seemed a meter short of fitness, having returned from knee surgery shortly before the finals.

It was a similar story for Brazil playmaker Kaka, who has suffered an injury-plagued debut season with Real Madrid.

There were flashes of the old Kaka, especially when he set up two goals in the 3-1 win over Ivory Coast.

But a harsh red card, only the third in the squeaky clean playmaker’s career, in that match summed up his tournament and, after Brazil had been knocked out, team doctor Jose Luiz Runco admitted Kaka might not have played in other circumstances.

“There were moments when I didn’t think I was going to make it to the World Cup, but my team mates gave me support and helped me to keep fighting,” said Kaka after a 2-1 quarter-final defeat against Netherlands.

“Only I know how much I fought to get here.

“I wanted more, I wanted to get to the final, I wanted to challenge for our sixth world title.”

At least the Spanish media can no longer accuse him of saving his best for Brazil.

Editing by Ken Ferris

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