Port Elizabeth: They came into the World Cup as superstars, the hopes of millions resting on their shoulders, or more accurately, their feet.
But with more than half of the tournament over, the supposedly five greatest footballers in the world have failed spectacularly to live up to their billing.
Superstars? You`ve got to be kidding. More like super-flops.
Lionel Messi? The Argentinian wonderboy with the feet of silver and a football brain that Einstein would kill for, has scored exactly zero goals.
Wayne Rooney, the British bulldog who has terrorised defences across Europe with his persistence, poise and power, has drawn a similar blank. He`s been so terrible, especially in England`s awful game against Algeria, that Harry Redknapp, one of the savviest managers in England, said that he wouldn`t spend even 1.5 million pounds (USD 2.25 million) to buy Rooney on his current form.
Then there`s the Spanish matador Fernando Torres, who missed chances galore for Spain and has looked a forlorn figure up front in every game played by La Roja. He too has failed to find the net and his most significant contribution to the team so far may have been getting accidentally tripped in the game against Chile, a foul that resulted in a red card for Chilean defender Marco Estrada.
And what about Cristiano Ronaldo? The Portugese attacker is the biggest star of world football, a fashion icon, ball trickster and goal-scorer, not to mention the most expensive player in the history of sport. He commanded a fee of USD 130 million when he transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid last year and who is said to earn USD 11 million per year from his club.
But judged by his performance at the World Cup Real might want to rip up that contract. His only goal was marked by comedy rather than skill, coming in Portugal`s 7-0 rout of North Korea, when Ronaldo lost sight of the ball only for it to land on the back of his head and bounce perfectly into his path for an opportunity even he couldn`t miss.
Didier Drogba, the Ivory Coast icon who encapsulated the hopes of a continent, also fits into the category of super-flops. After breaking his arm in a pre-tournament friendly against Japan, he managed to get fit in time to feature in the 0-0 opening game with Portugal. He did manage a great headed goal when his side were losing 3-0 to Brazil. But when Les Elephants needed his prowess to rack up a huge score again North Korea he once again could only fire duds.
Some may blame the Jabulani ball for spoiling the touch of the world`s most sublime players. Others cite the long season they have endured. Still another excuse is the effectiveness of the stifling tactics adopted by opposing teams.
Then there`s the "Nike Curse" which has affected all the superstars featuring in recent ads for Nike. Rooney, Ronaldo, and Drogba have all been hit, Ronaldinho wasn`t even picked for Brazil`s squad, while Italy`s losing captain Fabio Cannavaro, and France`s powder-puff winger Franck Ribery, both led their teams to ignominious exits.
Cannavaro will never grace the world stage again, while for Ribery and Drogba redemption may come in Brazil in 2014. But the other super-flops are hoping their salvation will come in the final games of this tournament.