The importance of being Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh from revealing his biceps, triceps and other toned, vein-streaked bits and bobs, now turns his attention away from the Real Madrid Decima party to an even more needy beast: the Portuguese World Cup squad. It will be a tough job for the Madeiran to achieve anything near similar success in his national team's colours this summer, but it falls to him and him alone to drag his teammates forward through the tournament in Brazil this summer.
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Many, who are underwhelmed by head coach Paulo Bento's deeply risk-free World Cup squad, where the arch fantasista Ricardo Quaresma was left out and several off-form old favourites were included, will look towards Ronaldo as the only sure-fire superstar in the entire group. It may be hard on the likes of the classy Joao Moutinho and rock-solid Pepe, but it will be Ronaldo who carries the hopes of the nation on his well photographed frame.
At Real, he may be the biggest star, but he remains just one member of a group of dazzling stellar talents. For Portugal, the weight of expectation will fall squarely on his shoulders. He is expected to lift, carry and deposit the national side somewhere as close as possible to the World Cup semifinals, and if he is to achieve this feat, a number of positive factors will have to be align themselves quickly and helpfully in his favour:
Firstly, his fitness. For a player who takes a constant battering, Ronaldo seldom misses games because of injury. He is undoubtedly built like an ox, a far cry from the spotty and frail teenager that first impressed Manchester United's players when turning out in a preseason friendly for Sporting Lisbon all those years ago. Nevertheless, an injury to Ronaldo, or the possibility of general wear and tear rendering him less than 100% after such a strenuous season, will immediately jeapordise Portugal's chances of advancement. Bento needs his captain and leader to be in optimum condition, come the crucial first kick-off against the Germans in Salvador on 16th June.
Secondly, there will need to be an infusion of form to his cohorts in attack. Ronaldo is likely to be accompanied on his forward forays by either Sylvester Varela of Porto down the left or Manchester United's Nani down the right with one of Hugo Almeida or Helder Postiga in the centre, none of whom have been uprooting trees for their clubs in recent times.
Ronaldo must trust that the squad's rest and recuperation programme at present being carried out at the resort complex of Praia del Rey near the coastal town of Peniche, north of Lisbon, will do the trick. Tired legs and battered self-confidence must be repaired, as these players will be required to hit the ground running against Europe's finest, before heading north to the heat and humidity of Manaus to face a critical second group game against the United Satates.
The third factor will be how Ronaldo deals with the limelight in Brazil. He carries a persona that seems to fit well with the flashing lightbulbs and constant attention and, like various footballers before him, seems at ease with the media circus that encircles him wherever he goes. This can, however, be a double-edged sword in situations like World Cups. In one sense, he will be the first figure the media wish to speak to and can take some of the pressure, as captain and pin-up boy, away from the others, allowing them to rest and prepare to play their part in the adventure. On the other hand, the pressure, constant and inescapable, that it puts Portugal's best player under is considerable and Bento may well feel that sparing his captain the daily duties of interviews and yet more interviews might be conducive to having him in the best possible condition.
Certainly, following the happy denouement of a season for Real in continental combat, where everything ended well for Ronaldo and his teammates in white -- finally bringing home that tenth Champions League crown and for the player personally in finally edging past Barcelona's Lionel Messi to grab all the top individual awards -- his psychological state could not be better. Going into a World Cup feeling top of the world is an important factor if your legs are telling you it may well be time to put your feet up and have a little rest instead.
One thing is certain, as the Portuguese squad prepares for what will be a special World Cup for them, in the land where their forefathers' presence is still felt today, any significant progress in the competition is likely to rest on the captain entering the fray in the best possible physical and psychological condition. Without him, Portugal's chances of making a splash on the other side of the Atlantic start to diminish significantly.