By Iain Rogers
BRASILIA, June 26 (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo's subdued performances for Portugal at the World Cup after his scintillating form for Real Madrid last season suggest the tournament was a bridge too far for the Ballon d'Or holder.
Ronaldo was expected to be among the stars at the finals in Brazil but after a gruelling season, when his record haul of 17 goals helped Real win a 10th Champions League crown, the Portugal captain did not seem to have much left in the tank.
The 29-year-old also seemed to be suffering the lingering effects of a left knee problem that surfaced towards the end of the European club season and his sole goal, the winner in Thursday's 2-1 victory against Ghana and his 50th for the national team, was scant consolation as Portugal failed to make the last 16.
It would be unfair to blame the Iberian nation's abject failure only on Ronaldo, who was playing in a mediocre team short on genuine quality that was ruthlessly dispatched 4-0 by Germany in the opening game.
However, the sight of Lionel Messi and Neymar, who play for Real's arch rivals Barcelona, rattling in the goals for Argentina and Brazil respectively will be a painful blow to the ego of a man who demands only the very best from himself and his team mates.
Ronaldo's statistics from his three appearances at World Cup finals mark a stark contrast to his return for Real, who paid around 94 million euros ($128 million), a record at the time, to lure him from Manchester United in 2009.
He is the first Portuguese to score at three different editions of soccer's global showpiece but he has a mere three World Cup goals from a total of some 70 shots.
For Real, who also won the King's Cup last term, he netted 51 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions in 2013-14 and has an astonishing 253 in 246 outings overall.
Ronaldo cut a forlorn figure towards the end of Thursday's match in Brasilia and was clearly struggling after going down in the heap in the penalty area in the 73rd minute.
He squandered several clear-cut chances over the course of the game, the likes of which he calmly converts with a minimum of fuss for Real, and spent a significant part of the second half standing with his hands on his hips.
With Portugal needing to win big against the Africans to have any hope of going through at the expense of the United States, who lost 1-0 to Germany in the other group game, he barely celebrated his 80th-minute goal.
"We created a lot of chances, we didn't convert all of them," Ronaldo told a news conference after collecting his man of the match award.
"We needed three goals and we were depending on the Germany result. It wasn't possible, we knew it was complicated," he added.
"That's football. We leave with our heads held high. We tried our best and we didn't succeed."
Ronaldo is theoretically at the peak of his powers and will surely have a part to play at Euro 2016 before perhaps bowing out of international football at the 2018 World Cup.
However, the 2014 edition in Brazil is not one he will remember fondly as Portugal woefully underperformed on the biggest stage. ($1 = 0.7359 Euros) (Additional reporting by Brian Homewood and Patrick Johnston, editing by Steve Keating.)