IS IT CURTAINS FOR RONALDO?

 IS IT CURTAINS FOR RONALDO?

Group G: Portugal v Ghana

On Thursday, in Brasilia, the biggest name of them all, Cristiano Ronaldo, could join the list of football's fallen who's who. David Villa, Xavi Hernandez, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Tim Cahill, Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba - the list could go on.

They all probably deserve better than a group-stage exit at Brazil 2014.

But ageing squads coupled with a lack of strong supporting casts mean that they will all be taking an early flight home.

At 29, this will likely be Ronaldo's last World Cup. And unless he can lead Portugal to a rout of Ghana and hope Germany do the same to the United States, Portugal, the fourth-ranked team in world football, will also be given the early boot.

Ronaldo was never under an illusion that things would go his and his country's way in Brazil.

"Portugal were never a favourite," said the Real Madrid star, who looks set to continue a streak of the world footballer of the year never winning the World Cup in the same year he is crowned.

"Even qualifying for the finals was problematic (Portugal had to beat Sweden in a play-off). I never thought we would be world champions. We have to be humble and recognise our limitations.

"There are things we cannot do, like running faster or having more quality.

"At the moment, there are better teams and better players than our own."

But even Ronaldo, who looks destined to never win a World Cup, could not have imagined a possible first-round exit.

With an already thin squad, defender Pepe did his team no favours when he was needlessly sent off in their 4-0 thrashing by Germany for head-butting Thomas Mueller.

And with Fabio Coentrao already ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a thigh injury, there is also concern if Ronaldo is fully fit after recovering from a knee injury.

Although he played 90 minutes against Germany and in the match against the US, in which his exquisite cross helped Portugal secure a late 2-2 draw, Ronaldo has not been his usual self in Brazil.

His marauding runs and tormenting of defenders, so evident when he scored all four goals in a 4-2 aggregate, two-leg play-off win over Sweden, have been missing in Brazil.

But Portugal's coach believes his star will be ready.

"Clinically, he was okay," said Paulo Bento after the US match.

"He played 90 minutes. I don't think there is a problem there."

What he may have a problem with, however, is tightening a leaky defence that has conceded six goals in two matches.

The back-line has struggled to cope with speedy attackers and may face a similar torrid time against an in-form Andre Ayew, Ghana's leading scorer with two goals, and captain Asamoah Gyan. But the Black Stars are not without their own problems.

The players did not train on Tuesday in protest over a delay in payment of their appearance fees.

Each player had been promised US$75,000 (S$93,700) for qualifying for the World Cup. Ghana President John Dramani Mahama reportedly had to plead with the team to honour travel arrangements for the Portugal game.

Ghana were cruelly denied a place in the semi-finals at the last World Cup. Uruguay's Luis Suarez blocked a goal-bound effort, that would have sent them to the last four, with his hands.

They still have a chance to try and repeat their strong showing in South Africa - but would also need to win and hope the US lose to progress to the last 16.

Said defender Harrison Afful, "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."


This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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