MANAUS, Brazil - Portugal are not good enough to win the World Cup, their world footballer of the year Cristiano Ronaldo admitted after Sunday's thrilling 2-2 draw with the United States.
The 29-year-old Real Madrid superstar - whose fitness has been a hot source of debate - kept his country's slim hopes of reaching the second round alive with a sublime cross which was headed home by Silvestre Varela in the dying seconds of time added on.
The Portuguese, who were hammered 4-0 by Germany in their opening game, must beat Ghana and hope there is a winner from the other match between Germany and the Americans - who both have four points - on Thursday to leave the second qualifying spot down to goal difference.
However, Ronaldo - who looks doomed to prolong the curse of the world footballer of the year never winning the World Cup the year he wins the award - said even reaching the second round will not presage a revival that will see them lift the World Cup trophy for the first time.
"Portugal were never a favourite," said Ronaldo.
"Even qualifying for the finals was problematic (he almost singlehandedly got Portugal to the finals with a hat-trick in the second leg of the play-off with Sweden in Stockholm in a 3-2 win, and a 4-2 victory on aggregate).
"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.
"Also with the setbacks we have had here, with the suspension of Pepe and the injury to Fabio Coentrao." Ronaldo, who had an outstanding season for Real which culminated with the 'meringues' 10th Champions League trophy, said he could have taken the easy way out and not come to the finals given his fitness concerns.
"It could have been a lot easier for me, I could have not come to the World Cup and I would have sat at home as a Champions League winner.
"Instead I answered my country's call as always," said Ronaldo, who inspired the Portuguese to a surprise run to the Euro 2012 semi-finals.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento also sprang to his captain's defence denying it was his patchy form which has been responsible for them clinging on to hopes of qualifying only by their fingernails.
"He was fit and he played 90 minutes," said Bento, who prior to the finals signed an extension to his contract taking him up to 2016.
"I don't think the problem with the displays lies with him. What happened has more to do with other players.
"The match has to be analysed from a broader perspective. I do not want to talk about individual cases and on one performance in particular.
"This is not the time to separate individual performances and the level of the team. There was not one player worse than the others. They are sad at the moment and it is not the time to criticise them.
"If there is somebody you want to criticise then it is me the coach."