Follow Eric Krakauer on Twitter @bigsoccerheadny
This article first appeared on Soccerly.com
For the superstitious, Tuesday’s thunder and lightning were bad omens.
After a brief a press conference that saw Nani get inundated with questions about Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury, the press core was escorted to Portugal’s practice field, only to be shepherded back into the press room after a siren went off, signaling an impending storm.
The storm at the time was nothing more than passing lighting that would delay training by just under an hour, but as the restless media awaited the signal to return to the field, news of a bigger one was beginning to spread.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury was worse than originally predicted – or publicized – warranting the anxiety the Portuguese have been feeling since the Real Madrid player joined his national team’s training camp.
The news prompted a mad frenzy among the Portuguese media contingent, who began transmitting the breaking news to Portugal. A micro-tear in Ronaldo’s thigh was not the issue. It was his knee, more specifically, an inflamed patellar tendon.
All of a sudden, the question was not when we would see Ronaldo in the World Cup, but whether we would see him at all.
To everyone’s surprise, though, Ronaldo did make an appearance at practice, albeit on another field, jogging along with teammates, Raul Meireles and Beto.
The good news is that Ronaldo’s knee injury doesn’t appear to have dampened training camp spirits – at least, not as far as Nani is concerned. The bad news, however, is that Portugal looked anemic against Greece, even though Paulo Bento adapted his tactics in order to best deal with his absence.
“IF CRISTIANO IS NOT READY, WE HAVE VALUABLE PLAYERS WHO ARE”
The quasi-failed 4-4-2 experiment used against Greece will almost certainly be discarded when Portugal faces Mexico on Friday and Ireland on Tuesday. Still, whereas before those games were – among other things – opportunities to audition the second starting wing-forward, Bento will now have find a potential replacement for his superstar.
That has elevated the importance of Portugal’s two remaining friendlies. Those will no longer only serve to adjust tactics and automatize systems. Now, Bento will have to figure out how to best mitigate his star player’s absence.
If Ronaldo were an ordinary wing-attacker, the task would not be that overwhelming. After all, Portugal is renowned for producing world class wingers (such as Paulo Futre and Luis Figo), and Bento’s squad includes a number of highly rated wide players. The problem is that none of them are goal-scorers. This season, Silvestre Varela, Nani, Vieirinha, and Rafa scored a combined 14 goals, while Ronaldo scored 51.
Making matters worse is the fact that Portugal’s recognized strikers are not consistent goal-scorers, themselves. In the last 10 games alone, Ronaldo has scored 11 of Portugal’s 21 goals. It should be noted that he actually didn’t play in two of those, neither of which Portugal won.
So far, the only encouraging sign is that Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be the only Portuguese not concerned with his current situation. On Tuesday, he could be seen joking around with Real Madrid teammate Fabio Coentrao (the two are inseparable) while the team waited for the rain to stop. And yesterday, he wore a smile as he kept yelling, “Let’s go. Keep it moving. The party is over,” while we (the media) were quickly escorted out of the New York Jets training complex by police and the facility’s security.
One has to hope that Ronaldo’s demeanor forecasts a timely recovery. If it doesn’t, Portugal’s performances against Mexico and Ireland better reveal something positive, lest the smaller of the two Iberian countries delves into a massive depression.