Portugal will be desperate today in more ways than one. Not only is this the last real chance for the Portuguese to re-enter this World Cup, it could be the final chance for its talented core to make a deep run in the tournament. Injuries have done quite a bit to rob Portugal of its talent. Its star player, Cristiano Ronaldo, has a problematic knee injury, and reports have surfaced that he has been advised that playing on this injury could lead to an even more devastating knee injury.
Center back Fabio Coentrao and striker Hugo Almeida already have been ruled out of the group stage with injuries, a problem only confounded by defender Pepe, who lost his mind against Germany and earned a suspension for today’s game.
The Portuguese earned fourth-place in the 2006 World Cup before losing to eventual finalist France, but the young core led by Ronaldo – whose cool penalty kick knocked out England in the quarterfinals – gave many the belief that Portugal would win a major tournament. This was supposed to be the group that took the sting off an epic choke against Greece in Euro 2004. Portugal has been a top-10 during this class’ tenure on the national team, but it hasn’t had quite enough to deliver a trophy. Euro 2008 (quarterfinals), the 2010 World Cup (round of 16) and Euro 2012 (semifinals) all saw the Portuguese lose to a top-flight European team, which led many to believe Portugal always would be just below first class.
Now, time is operating against this generation. Ronaldo (29 years old), Nani (27), Almeida (30), Raul Miereles (31) and Pepe (31) all are at an age where they won’t be the same the next time the World Cup comes around. In the case of the final three, inclusion in the next team isn’t guaranteed.
Portugal always has been better on paper than it has been in real life, and this current team has taken quite a bit of criticism – fairly, I might add – for being soft. The Portuguese still are ranked fourth in the world and still have the skill to beat the United States, but there isn’t any more future on which to fall back anymore.
The trophy dream might well come down to 90 minutes in Manaus. Nothing has made Portugal reach its full potential yet.
Game of The Day: United States vs. Portugal, 3 p.m. There’s no such thing as an easy game in this group, but a draw is a virtual win for the U.S. Coming into this game, the Americans have a goal differential of plus-1, while Portugal is minus-4 after its disastrous opener against Germany. Should the two split the points today, Portugal would have to pull out something majestic in game 3 – and receive some help from the Germans – to even finish tied on goal differential. Given that the U.S. also is two ahead in total goals scored, today has to be a win for Portugal.
For The Novice: Cristiano Ronaldo, No. 7 for Portugal, is the reigning player of the year in FIFA, and he’ll receive as much star treatment as one can have in soccer. (If he plays, that is. He has been struggling with a knee injury.) The United States will mind Ronaldo in the same manner that a basketball team guards a high-scoring opponent. Watch how the U.S. tracks Ronaldo at all times. When he has space – and he doesn’t need much – he can score from anywhere inside 35 yards.