Counting on Ronaldo

Counting on Ronaldo

The 29-year-old Real Madrid superstar scored a hat-trick in Portugal's play-off victory over Sweden to ensure he, and his countrymen, would have the chance to shine on the world stage this summer.

Portugal had lost only once on theroad to Brazil, but a second-placed finish behind Russia meant they entered the play-offs against Sweden, where Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost put them to the sword.

Ronaldo had scored a crucial late winner in the first leg to give Portugal a slender advantage before firing the opener in the return clash in Solna, following which the imposing Ibrahimovic netted twice in four second-half minutes to throw the tie wide open.

With the weight of a nation's expectation resting on his shoulders, Ronaldo scored two more to claim a hat-trick, a ticket to Brazil and equal Portugal's all-time leading goalscorer Pauleta on 47.

Ronaldo is therefore Portugal's star attraction going into the tournament, and he stands head and shoulders above his teammates in terms of talent and star quality, but they are far from a one-man team.

EXPERIENCE

Joao Moutinho, who plies his trade at Ligue 1's Monaco, shone at Euro 2012 when Portugal reached the semifinals, while Fenerbahce midfielder Raul Meireles has the experience of winning the Champions League title with Chelsea along with 70 caps for his country.

There is also Manchester United winger Luis Nani, a wily campaigner who is the perfect foil for Ronaldo.

Portugal will face Germany, Ghana and the United States in Group G and have a good chance of qualifying in the top two.

Their best finish came in 1966 - the year England's Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy - when Portugal finished in third place after Eusebio led them to a semi-final defeat by the eventual champions.

Portugal also finished in fourth place in 2006 when the golden generation of Luis Figo, Nuno Gomes, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto and Paulo Sousa all starred for their country. Paulo Bento is now in charge, and if he is able to get the best out of his star man Ronaldo, Portugal could go far.

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