Resurgence of Ronaldo contrasts with Rooney's wane

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The Independent Football

They shared countless column inches during the World Cup, thrown together, or rather torn apart, by issues of blame and betrayal. Back at Manchester United they kissed and made up, but in terms of performance there is still a chasm between Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Rooney continued to look sullen and detached during United's 1-0 win at Benfica. In contrast, Ronaldo was at his bravest and most dynamic, rising above the relentless barrage of abuse from Benfica supporters who cannot get over his origins with Sporting Lisbon to reveal a maturity far removed from the wink that damned him in many English eyes.

Despite Sir Alex Ferguson's protestations at Reading last weekend, Rooney is plainly still suffering the after-effects, perhaps mentally as well as physically, of the metatarsal injury that delayed his introduction to the World Cup and the moment of madness that abruptly ended it.

A run of games can only help to restore his sharpness, but the longer his current languor lasts the greater the psychological pressure on the 20-year-old could become. And Rooney, as the red-card count demonstrates, is prone to combustible behaviour when his frustration festers.

At Estadio da Luz on Wednesday, the game was rugged and occasionally spiteful. Rooney, however, was seldom sufficiently involved to become embroiled in a repeat of his summer spat with Ricardo Carvalho. Ferguson's determination to grind out a result on United's return to the scene of last December's damaging defeat meant he operated more as defensive left-sided midfielder than as a striker.

Rooney's temper and tactical discipline could not be faulted as he repeatedly helped out Gabriel Heinze, another player coming back from a lengthy absence. Yet his body language was scarcely that of a player enjoying his football, and his attempts to link with Louis Saha were as sporadic as they were unconvincing.

Galling as one suspects it would be after the events of Gelsenkirchen, Rooney could do worse than look to Ronaldo for inspiration. At the height of the xenophobia that followed their falling-out, there was talk of the Portuguese 21-year-old being hounded out of the Premiership. To the delight of his manager, he not only stayed but has upped his game and, on Wednesday at least, he is drawing strength from provocation.

Rio Ferdinand was quick to defend Rooney. "He's been out for a long time," the defender said. "He's only played six or seven matches in six months and no matter how great a player you are, you are not going to be flying on that amount of football. I'm not worried about his form, his team-mates are not worried and neither is Wazza."

Without ever resembling a side that might go on and win the Champions' League, United showed impressive unity of purpose to lay the ghosts of Lisbon, and indeed to put a couple of domestic disappointments behind them. Once Saha had scored on the hour, it was merely a matter of whether they could embellish their victory. Only the excellence of Quim in the Benfica goal prevented their doing so.

Ferguson is looking to the future. He argues that results in Group F mean both Benfica and FC Copenhagen must play "an open game" at Old Trafford - with obvious potential benefits for Rooney and Ronaldo.

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