Prolific and successful at club level, the Real Madrid star looks destined to endure a barren international career
At least Cristiano Ronaldo, unlike his old team-mate Ryan Giggs, gets to play in major tournaments. But the burden of underachievement on the biggest of stages must weigh heavily on his shoulders, and there were few signs that it will be eased in the coming days.
The world's most expensive footballer started his fifth major tournament with Portugal last night, hoping to make his first significant impact. Two European Championships, two World Cups, and only five goals to show from 19 matches in those competitions: not the sort of statistics to be treasured by a player who has spent the past three years writing the record books with his club.
José Mourinho, who was present tonight in the Arena Lviv, certainly believes that Ronaldo is worth the £80m Real Madrid paid for him in the summer of 2009. The most recent proof is in 46 league goals with which he propelled the club to the Spanish title during this last season. With his national team, however, the picture has always been somewhat different.
Sadly, no one expects very much from Portugal these days. The hope of a renaissance raised by the team of 10 years ago was eventually snuffed out, and although Portugal still produces its share of decent players, the quantity is no longer sufficient to create an entire team of real substance. As a result Ronaldo simply has no one to play with, no one operating at his level, no one to respond consistently to his prompting or to take the pressure off the superstar.
Making him captain might not have been the smartest of ideas. Eusébio was the best Portuguese player of the 1960s, but Mario Coluna, a clever and tireless midfield player, ran the side. Luís Figo, the most outstanding player of the golden generation, was not asked to take the extra responsibility, which went to Fernando Couto. Like David Beckham, Ronaldo appears to have been given the armband simply because he is the squad's most famous figure, and likes the status.
He is unlucky to be operating at a time when, as the principal goal threat, there is so little creative assistance from midfield. Eusébio, who was also present tonight, had the tall José Torres and the tricky little Antonio Simoes to support him. The golden generation had the resplendent trio of Figo, Rui Costa and Paulo Sousa making the bullets for Pauleta to fire.
Nor, for a long time, has there been anyone capable of sharing the weight up front. Through a series of centre forwards, from Pauleta through Nuno Gomes to Helder Postiga, who started last night, the quality of Portugal's specialist strikers has steadily declined. There was a typical moment midway through the first half when Ronaldo raced down the left before sliding a square pass towards Postiga, who had mistimed his sprint and overran the ball. His captain responded with the pout, the shrug, the hands on the hips: the full double teapot.
For Germany, this was in effect a home fixture. In front of grandstands filled with white shirts and festooned with banners from Bochum, Halle, Lubeck, Duisberg and elsewhere, Joachim Löw's gifted and well balanced team – many people's favourites to win the tournament – made a positive start and might have scored in the second minute when Mesut Ozil sent Jérôme Boateng away down the left, forcing Rui Patricio to clutch the glancing header with which Thomas Müller met the full back's cross.
But there was a surprising lack of intensity about their play as the first half went on, allowing Portugal to play an equal part without doing very much to deserve their parity. Ronaldo took every opportunity to run at Boateng, once firing in a low cross that a more ruthless forward than Postiga would have tucked away, and Portugal came closest to a goal on the stroke of the interval when Pepe met a half-clearance with a side-footed shot that struck the underside of the crossbar and came down squarely on the line. That got Mourinho and 12-year-old José Jr on their feet, but it had been a half out of keeping with the start of the tournament, the capacity crowd at times reduced to near-silence as the two sides played the ball quietly back and forth across midfield.
For Arsenal fans there was a chance to watch Lukas Podolski, the Polish-born forward who will start next season at the Emirates Stadium after an £11m transfer from Cologne. A tally of 43 goals in 98 appearances for Germany since making his debut in 2004 may sound promising for the north London club, but the 27-year-old did little of note tonight from a position on the left of the German attack. Poldi's days as a pure striker appear to be behind him, which might not be what his new supporters will want to hear.
When Germany finally took the lead, in the 72nd minute, it was the product of a quite marvellous header from Mario Gomez. At that moment Miroslav Klose was standing on the touchline, waiting to replace the Bayern Munich striker, but the goal will no doubt keep Podolski's old partner waiting a little longer for his next start. And Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the first to disappear down the tunnel at the final whistle, will be wondering if he is ever destined to make his mark in his national colours.