Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 19 News List

WORLD CUP: Ronaldo’s Portugal face sobering early exit

AFP, BRASILIA

Ghana’s Harrison Afful, left, vies for the ball with Germany’s Mario Goetze in their FIFA World Cup Group G match at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal face a sobering early World Cup exit today even if their World Footballer of the Year produces pyrotechnics in their final group game against Ghana.

The Real Madrid player came to the World Cup bracketed alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar as one of a triumvirate of true global superstars, but while the Barcelona pair have produced moments of sublime skill and goals, the attention surrounding Ronaldo has mainly focused on the health or otherwise of his troublesome left knee.

Portugal — fourth in the FIFA world rankings — are rock bottom of Group G with a solitary point from their matches against Germany and the US, both of whom have four points. They were pummeled 4-0 by Germany and the fact they still have any chance of progressing at all is down to Ronaldo, who delivered a sublime cross for their equalizer in a 2-2 draw against the US.

Despite that goal, headed in by Silvestre Varela in the dying seconds of stoppage-time, the cold, hard reality is that if the US and Germany draw in Recife, Portugal and Ghana, who also have one point, are doomed.

Portugal have insisted throughout the tournament that their star player is fit, but he has failed to dominate matches in the way he does for his club and admitted that his side’s task is “virtually impossible.”

Ronaldo was sanguine after the match against the US, admitting that Portugal, despite their lofty ranking, were never among the favorites to lift the World Cup.

“I never thought we would be world champions. We have to be humble and recognize our limitations. There are things we cannot do, like running faster or having more quality,” Ronaldo said.

“At the moment there are better teams and better players than our own,” added the 29-year-old, who had an outstanding season for Real Madrid that culminated in a 10th European Cup for the club.

Paulo Bento’s side have also had to cope with a one-match suspension for defender Pepe after a red card in the Germany match and an injury to Fabio Coentrao that ruled him out of the rest of the tournament.

Portugal’s task is made more difficult by their goal-difference of minus-four, meaning they must score a hatfull of goals even to be in the mix. Ghana’s goal-difference is minus-one.

They are unlikely to have it all their own way when they take on Ghana in Brasilia after the Black Stars gave Germany a fright, before Miroslav Klose equalized to rescue a 2-2 draw.

Despite that setback Ghana, who reached the quarter-finals in South Africa in 2010, still harbor hopes of progressing to the round-of-16.

The exact makeup of the team is difficult to predict after Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah made four changes for the Germany match from the side that lost their opening game to the US, bringing in Schalke 04 star Kevin-Prince Boateng, although he was taken off early in the second half.

“We ran ourselves into the ground and played really well against a team of the caliber of Germany,” defender Harrison Afful said. “We’ve still got a game to go and we’re going to give it our all to go through. If we don’t qualify, it won’t be for lack of effort.”

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