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Ronaldo not enough for ageing, sulky Portugal

By Brian Homewood

(Reuters) - Portugal's abject performance in their 4-0 defeat by Germany at the World Cup on Monday was a painful reminder that having the world's best player does not always guarantee success.

Their ageing, bad-tempered team endured a nightmare afternoon in the wilting heat of Salvador, suggesting that coach Paulo Bento may have miscalculated in staying faithful to the players who reached the Euro 2012 semi-finals.

Poor finishing, dreadful defending and a generally unsporting attitude, culminating with central defender Pepe's infantile sending-off for a headbutt, combined to make it an all-round disaster for Bento's side in their Group G opener.

Ronaldo was dragged into the abyss with the rest of his team mates and, apart from a bright opening 10 minutes, never looked as he would have a chance to pull off his shirt and show off his rippling muscles with one of his defiant goal celebrations.

Nothing went right for the 29-year-old World Player of the Year whose performance reached a low point when he contrived to drill a 30-metre free kick into a one-man Germany wall.

Even his hair, usually immaculately groomed, fell out of place in the dripping tropical humidity.

Although Ronaldo's mere presence tends to lead to the assumption that Portugal are one of the world's top sides, recent results have suggested otherwise.

They struggled through their World Cup qualifying group, finishing behind Russia, and only a superb Ronaldo hat-trick in the playoff tie in Sweden got them here in the first place.

WARNING SIGNS

Portugal began well on Monday and could have gone ahead but failed to take their chances. The warning signs were there when keeper Rui Patricio's attempted clearance went straight to Sami Khedira, who shot narrowly wide of the open goal from 35 meters.

Once Thomas Mueller put Germany ahead with a penalty, carelessly given away by Joao Pereira, problems quickly emerged.

Hugo Almeida and Nani, included despite an unimpressive season at Manchester United, incurred Ronaldo’s wrath after causing Portugal attacks to break down.

At the back, Germany's Mats Hummels was allowed to outjump the defense to head in from a corner before Bruno Alves’s attempted clearance was blocked by Mueller who fired home.

In between, Pepe, who has a long history of losing his cool and lashing out, was sent off for a needless incident with Mueller, leaving Portugal to play the second half with 10 men.

Injuries to striker Almeida and left back Fabio Coentrao completed Portugal's misery.

Ten of their starting lineup also played against Germany at Euro 2012, but the two years since then have clearly taken their toll with several players struggling at club level.

Six of the starters were over 30, including three of the back four, and none younger than 26.

However, the new generation have been slow to come through and many young Portuguese players, particularly at Benfica and Porto, find their way to first-team football blocked by a legion of South American imports.

Bento's previous World Cup experience was playing in 2002 and left unhappy memories when Portugal exited in the first round. Unless he can outfox Ghana and the United States, his first experience as a coach is set to end the same way.

(Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Ken Ferris)

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