East Rutherford, New Jersey – Cristiano Ronaldo did not want to talk about his troublesome knee last night. Nor did the Ballon d’Or winner wish to discuss his tender thigh.
We know this because, after keeping both U.S. and Portuguese reporters waiting for more than two hours following Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over Ireland, Ronaldo surrounded by a phalanx of teammates and flunkies, blew past all concerned without breaking stride.
Instead the Portuguese megastar let his play versus Ireland on Tuesday night speak for itself. Which in turn, left the dozens of journalists camped outside the New York Giants dressing room deep in the bowels of MetLife Stadium, to speculate.
And that can be dangerous. How to judge Portugal’s talisman in his countries final World Cup tune up before boarding a flight to Brazil ahead of Monday’s showdown with Germany?
After sitting out Portugal’s friendlies with Greece and Mexico, Ronaldo was active in his 65 minute shift versus Ireland. Ronaldo last played when he went the full 120 minutes in Real Madrid’s 4-1 Champions League Final victory over Atletico Madrid on May 24, before being held out of the pre-World Cup games.
Overuse is being blamed for the knee tendinosis and thigh strain that has shelved Ronaldo since, with Portugal failing to less impress in a 0-0 draw with Greece, and a 1-0 win over Mexico, during Ronaldo’s convalescence.
Ronaldo gave the crowd of 46,000 plus a scare when he went down twice in the first half. First under a heavy challenge, and then again when he fell untouched with a goal chance at his mercy. Ronaldo got up, and contributed to two of Portugal’s goals.
With the score already 1-0 after Almeida’s second minute goal, a sublime back heel from Ronaldo set up Fabio Coentrao for a shot that became an own goal. Then Ronaldo’s powerful header was too much for David Forde to control, leaving Almedia with a tap in for his second goal in the 37th mark.
Of course Portugal are more than one man, even if that man is Ronaldo, and injuries to midfielder Raul Meireles and defender Pepe also contributed to those lackluster friendly performances. Both men were back last night, with Meireles starting and Pepe coming on late.
Meireles formed an imposing central midfield pairing with rising young Portuguese star Willian Carvalho, a duo that will be a challenge for any World Cup midfield. From his tats to his mohawk, and full beard Meireles, who departed with Ronaldo in the 66th minute, looks every inch the part of a midfield enforcer, which he is.
However, the former Liverpool and Chelsea man, who now plays for Fenerbahce, has more to his game. Meirelles demonstrated as much last night, delivering several telling passes against the beleaguered Irish.
Pepe was solid too, though he didn’t see a lot of action in his late shift. Then again, Meireles and the Brazilian born Pepe are more work horses than the thoroughbred Ronaldo, and may be able to operate efficiently at something less than 100%.
Injured players aside, Portugal were very impressive against the Irish, even if it was hard to get a read, with one team prepping for the World Cup, as the other got ready for their summer holidays.
Taken at face value Portugal will be a handful for Group G opponents Germany, USA, and Ghana. Portugal seemed overly reliant on their superstar to get to the World Cup, remember that Ronaldo scored all four of Portugal’s goals in the two game World Cup qualifying playoff versus Sweden.
Fot that reason coach Paulo Bento will be happy with Hugo Almeida’s brace Tuesday night, and that his team notched five goals without Ronaldo getting on the scoresheet.
Bento played something close to his likely starting lineup versus Ireland and he received good performances all over the field, particularly in a dominant first half for Portugal.
Leading 3-0 at the break Bento’s side allowed Ireland back into the game following the re-start. With the underdogs working hard, Wes Hoolahan took a quick free kick to James McClean, who beat Rui Patricio in the 52nd minute to make a game of it, briefly.
A flurry of substitutions by both teams led to some sloppy passages before normal service was resumed with two late Portuguese goals. Most impressive for Portugal during these latter stages was Manchester United’s Nani. The man who has frustrated many for not being Ronaldo, did a reasonable impersonation against the Irish with two excellent assists and some dangerous runs.
Can he operate at that level versus stiffer opposition in Brazil? We will see, but Tuesday should be a warning to Portugal’s opponents, when Ronaldo and Nani share the pitch, don’t sleep on Portugal’s other winger.
Portugal has talented players all over the field, clearly too talented for Ireland last night. Joao Moutinho completes a dangerous midfield trio in Portugal’s usual 4-3-3, and attacking options abound on a team where all 10 field players are very comfortable in possession.
Ireland, though were too respectful, sitting back and allowing their skillful opponents too much time on the ball. From a U.S. perspective it will be interesting to see how aggressive Klinsmann has his team play against Portugal.
The most recent U.S. lineup that impressed versus Nigeria featured Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman in defensive midfield roles, with Jones free to pick his spots to jump into the attack alongside Michael Bradley.
Defend and counter seemed to be the plan against Nigeria and that may serve as the blueprint for the U.S. MNT as they attempt to negotiate the Group of Death, and advance to the round of 16.