JOHANNESBURG - Images of Wayne Rooney,
Cristiano Ronaldo and Samuel Eto'o are still festooned on
posters all over South Africa - but sadly for them that's their
only involvement as the World Cup reaches its final stages.
Along with the likes of Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast, Lionel
Messi of Argentina and Fernando Torres of Spain, they were
supposed to score goals, lead by example and have a battle royal
to prove themselves as the world's best player.
It did not quite work out like that.
Messi, who has had an excellent tournament so far without
scoring a goal, and Torres, who has had an indifferent
tournament without scoring either, are still involved with
Argentina facing Germany in their quarter-final and Spain
playing Paraguay in theirs.
They still have time to leave an indelible mark on this
World Cup but the chance has gone, for at least another four
years, for Rooney and Ronaldo. For Drogba, who will be 36 in
2014 and Eto'o, who will be 33, the chance may have gone for
Rooney undoubtedly had the worst World Cup of the lot.
The build-up to the tournament in England was dominated by
stories of how an-in form Rooney would lead England to the
semi-finals at least.
Rooney though, was never on form, played without a smile as
if he would rather be anywhere else, and although he came close
to a goal in England's final Group C match against Slovenia, he
had a miserable sullen campaign.
It was summed up by a wild, ludicrous "shot" at goal during
England's 4-1 second round defeat to Germany in Bloemfontein
when his effort appeared to be heading for the landlocked nation
of Lesotho 80 miles away rather than the back of the German net.
His old Manchester United team mate Cristiano Ronaldo, the
world's most expensive player, also rarely rose above the
He came close to starting the tournament in glory with a
long-distance strike that crashed against the Ivory Coast post
and was mostly ineffective for the rest of that game.
He did shine, though, in the 7-0 rout of the North Koreans,
firing shots against the bar, the side netting and the keeper as
well as making some delightful passes and breaking his long dry
spell for the national side with a comical late goal.
With Portugal's defensive approach in the final group game
against Brazil, the winger saw little of the ball and, excepting
the odd useful pass, his threat was nullified by imposing centre
The second round tie against the Spaniards offered Ronaldo a
great chance to shine but Portugal's direct method to counter
their opponents' passing game left him with little service and
his main chance came from a fierce, swerving free-kick that Iker
Casillas struggled to defend.
Frustrated by not being able to make darting runs and with
his free kicks mostly flying into the stands, Ronaldo spent most
of the tournament pouting.
His tournament ended sourly after he told journalists to
"speak to Carlos Queiroz" when asked to explain the loss to
Spain and then had to retract the comments in a statement.
Spain's Torres came in direct opposition to Ronaldo on
Tuesday, with coach Vicente del Bosque deploying him in a
two-pronged attack with strike partner David Villa.
After returning from knee surgery shortly before the
tournament, he has been totally outshone by Villa, who has
netted four in four matches to draw to within two of Raul's
national scoring record of 44.
Torres looks to be lacking the pace and strength that have
made him such a terror for defenders in the past and is a shadow
of the player who scored the brilliant winning goal in the Euro
2008 final against Germany.
"It's not easy coming back after an operation," the
26-year-old said last weekend. "I think I still have a little
way to go before I am back at 100 percent, although I am close."
Torres at least, like Messi, is still involved. Messi, the
World Player of the Year, has had a series of excellent games
with Argentina seemingly on course for a final showdown with
Of all the "poster boys" Messi still has the chance to etch
his name on the finals just as Diego Maradona did in 1986.
The two big African stars of the pre-tournament build-up had
moderate successes, even though their teams failed to survive
the group stage.
Drogba played with a protective cast for Ivory Coast after
fracturing his arm before the tournament, and at least had the
satisfaction of becoming the first African to score a goal
against Brazil in the World Cup when he netted in their 3-1
defeat at Soccer City.
Cameroonian Eto'o managed to get on the scoresheet twice
before his side also exited at the group stage. They never came
close to emulating the 1990 Roger Milla campaign and will be
remembered among the footnotes when the story of this tournament
is recalled in the history books.
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