Neither friend nor enemy, Cristiano Ronaldo exits the World Cup as a frenemy of the U.S. The soccer maestro, whose 11th-hour assist Sunday delayed the Americans' entry into the knockout phase, helped assure it Thursday with the deciding goal in Portugal's 2-1 win over Ghana.
Ghana was in a better position than Portugal to slip into second place of Group G via the tiebreaker procedure in the event of a U.S. defeat to Germany. Sure enough, the Americans bowed, but so did Ghana.
When its goalkeeper, Fatawu Dauda, batted out a shot right to the foot of an unshadowed Ronaldo deep in the box, it was the equivalent of placing a baseball on a tee for a home run hitter. The goal in the 80th minute was so effortless that Ronaldo refrained from celebrating.
Dauda repelled an earlier Ronaldo header whose force knocked the keeper backward. With little to play for, Ronaldo and his mates exerted sufficient effort to put away a strife-torn foe.
Two Ghanian players, one of whom would have started, were dispatched home before the match. One got into a physical altercation with a team executive; the other let loose a tirade at the coach. There were unconfirmed rumors of boycott consideration because of unpaid bonuses promised to players.
Conspiracy theorists no doubt took delight when Ghana's John Boye apparently attempted to clear a shot and booted it in for an own goal. Amazingly, Boye nearly repeated the gaffe.
Ghana steeled itself at halftime and tied it on Asamoah Gyan's goal in the 57th minute, putting the U.S. in a precarious spot. Then Ronaldo lowered American stress levels with a goal that got the Americans through -- and got him off their enemy's list.