BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo finally made his mark at the World Cup — but it came too late to spare Portugal an early exit from Brazil.
The world player of the year broke his scoring drought at the tournament with an 80th-minute winner in Portugal's 2-1 victory over Ghana on Thursday.
That result, however, left the Portuguese level on four points with United States in Group G but with an inferior goal difference to the second-place Americans, who lost 1-0 to Germany in Recife. Ghana also was eliminated, finishing bottom of the group.
"We knew we had to score three goals and were depending on the result of the Germany game and we couldn't do that," Ronaldo said after his most lively performance of the tournament.
"We deserved more, but that's football. We are leaving with our heads held high."
Ronaldo barely celebrated after slamming home his goal with his left foot, giving Portugal its first win after a 4-0 loss to Germany and 2-2 draw with the U.S.
By that time, the Portuguese still needed a three-goal swing to move above the Americans and even though Ronaldo was presented with two more great chances in injury time at Estadio Nacional, his team was always going to fall short.
"We created many opportunities but we could not finish them," said Ronaldo, who was voted man of the match in a bittersweet ending to the World Cup.
Ghana captain Asamaoh Gyan's 57th-minute header canceled out an own goal scored by teammate John Boye in the 31st, and at that stage it was the African side that was closer to qualifying.
A 2-1 victory would have put Ghanaians through but Majeed Waris' headed chance that he planted wide of the post in the 60th was the only genuine opening they created before Ronaldo's sucker-punch.
The result brought to an end a typically eventful few weeks in Brazil for the Ghanaians, who were part of thrilling games against the United States and Germany before their campaign ended in turmoil on and off the pitch.
Their players took to the field in the Brazilian capital amid a dispute with the country's football federation over alleged unpaid World Cup bonuses. Adding to the chaos, two of the team's star players — Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng — were booted out of the squad hours before Thursday's kickoff for disciplinary reasons.
"I don't think it had an impact on the game," said Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah, who confirmed that his players received their appearance-fee payments before kickoff as requested.
"We had our chances but couldn't take them."
It was perhaps no surprise that Ghana delivered its most subdued display of the tournament, ensuring Ronaldo was given plenty of time and space to wreak havoc.
If his finishing had been anywhere close to the standard he delivers week in, week out for Real Madrid, Portugal may even have extended its stay in Brazil — at least for a few more days.
"That's not the only, single or main reason (Portugal is out)," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. "We should look at it in a more comprehensive way, not just at individuals."
Ronaldo could have had a hat trick by the time he finally found the net.
An over-hit cross in the fifth minute flew over Dauda and slammed against the bar before Ronaldo squandered a gilt-edged chance, heading straight at the keeper from six yards (meters) out.
After having two stinging shots saved, he was bailed out by Boye, who sliced Miguel Veloso's cross into the top corner of his own net to give the Portuguese a halftime lead they just about deserved.
Gyan could hardly miss with a header after Kwadwo Asamaoh's delicious cross with the outside of his left foot, making it 1-1. With Germany having just taken the lead in Recife, the Ghanaian contingent inside the stadium sensed an opportunity.
However, Ronaldo had the final say, making no mistake from eight yards (meters) out after Dauda had parried the ball high into the air.
Portugal: Beto (Eduardo, 89); Joao Pereira (Silvestre Varela, 62), Pepe, Bruno Alves, Miguel Veloso; Ruben Amorim, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho; Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eder (Vieirinha, 69).
Ghana: Fatau Dauda; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, John Boye, Rabiu Mohammed (Acquah Afriyie, 76); Kwadwo Asamoah, Christian Atsu, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Andre Ayew (Mubarak Wakaso, 81); Majeed Waris (Jordan Ayew, 71), Asamoah Gyan.