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Maradona's 'moral' Hand of God

ESPN FC & Howler

48-team World Cup: Good idea or bad idea?

World Cup
 By Simon Curtis

Ronaldo injury stirs anxiety

Ronaldo is suffering with left-leg patellar tendinitis as he works to be available for the Group G opener on June 16.

The news that Cristiano Ronaldo trained for the first time Tuesday in preparation for his country's next friendly workout against Mexico in Boston on Saturday was positive for those back home waiting for updates on the fitness level of Portugal's star player. The bad news came almost immediately after, when it was revealed that he and Raul Meireles, along with reserve goalkeeper Beto, trained separately from the rest of the players, along with squad physiotherapist António Gaspar.

- Report: Ronaldo suffering from tendinitis

At this point of preparations, anything that suggests Portugal's star turn may be missing or incapacitated in any way, sends shivers down the collective Portuguese spine. An assault on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil without the captain's steadying influence on matters does not really bear thinking about. This is the player who almost single-handedly dragged his country through two tough playoff games with World Cup regulars Sweden and who carries the expectations of the nation on his muscular shoulders.

Much has been written about coach Paulo Bento's liking for stability, normality and predictability in his national side's workings and, as soon as a spanner is thrown into the works, you get the feeling things might get hectic pretty quickly. Witnessing the encounter with Greece last weekend in the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon, it was clear that Bento's experimental side, lacking Ronaldo, Pepe, Fabio Coentrão and João Moutinho, was not a patch on the chosen starting 11 that he appears to have carved on a slab of Portuguese marble. If what we saw against Greece was the fabled Plan B, a switch to dual strikers instead of one central striker fed by two wide men pushed well forward and a central midfield pairing with two wide instead of a midfield three (in other words, all the signs of a 4-4-2 instead of the trusted Bento favourite of a 4-3-3), it did not ignite. The Greeks, steadfast and stubborn, refused to budge from coach Fernando Santos' stodgy they-shall-not-pass game plan and indeed Portugal did not pass.

In fact, as the game grew old, it was the painfully cautious Greeks who came close to snatching it. All of this points to a Plan B that, if needed, may well turn out to be a bigger Achilles' heel than the muscular injury currently being treated by Portugal's medical team. It is late in the day to start experimenting with a system that the coach has barely used, with players unfamiliar to its workings and with time running out. This morning's A Bola newspaper, following every breath and every footfall that the national team players take, stated: "Without alarms, without relying on speculation, it remains indisputable that we have reached a situation that will leave the world of football, particularly the national team of Portugal and the millions of Portuguese who love this side and who are expecting a great tournament from them, in a state of some anxiety ..."

After indeed falling for some waves of speculation, the local press descended on what it thinks is the actual part of Ronaldo's body that has suffered a blip: it is tendinitis of the left knee: "An injury occurring from over-use of the knee tendons in a sport demanding many changes of speed and direction ..." stated journalist José Manuel Freitas in A Bola.

In 12 days' time, Portugal take to the field in Salvador and it is possible Ronaldo may not play in either of the warm-up games with Mexico or the Republic of Ireland. In those 12 days, Ronaldo will be treated with expert care to ensure he makes it onto the field to start his first game in a World Cup where he is expected to shine as one of the tournament's very brightest lights.