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Thursday, June 21, 2018

FIFA World Cup 2018: Can Portugal survive without Cristiano Ronaldo?

Four goals. One man. The self-acclaimed “best player in history” – Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal captain has led the Euro 2016 champions from the front in the World Cup so far. In two games, the 33-year old has stood tall and has found the back of the net whenever his side needed him to provide a moment of inspiration. Penalty. Free Kick. Header. Ronaldo has done it all.
But one cannot but wonder how things would fare if he was not present. In the final of the Euros, the Real Madrid forward picked up an injury and had to leave the field after just 15 minutes. A late Eder goal finally saw Portugal lifting the trophy. Football is a sport where things change very quickly. And the Portugal side, who are flying after being unbeaten in two games, can find themselves in a situation where they may have to compete without their main man. Portugal need to find another ‘Eder’ soon.
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Gonçalo Guedes’ who came into limelight after scoring a brace against Algeria in warm-up game, was also praised by the media during Portugal’s training sessions in Russia before the start of the tournament. Due to his performance, he found a place in the starting XI in both the matches. But so far, he has failed to impress. His shot in the 39th minute against Morocco on Wednesday was the first on-target shot by any Portugal player other than Ronaldo. Any guesses who opened up Guedes inside the box to take the shot? Yes, it was Ronaldo himself. Guedes went one-on-one with Morocco goalkeeper Munir Mohand Mohamedi but failed to score on a simple chance.
While up against Spain, Portugal appeared to be a strong and decisive unit, largely because of a one-man show. But on Wednesday, the flaws in their midfield were exposed by the pacy Morocco line-up. Portugal midfield, comprising of Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho and Bruno Fernandes provided little to create any chances in the first half, and became overtly wasteful in the second. Ronaldo was left alone in front, often frustrated and alone, on a field with a team that just does not match up to his level.
While Seleccao will celebrate the three points, coach Fernando Santos needs to figure out a plan in midfield that does not rely too often on Ronaldo. On being he asked the question before the Morocco fixture, Santos simply shrugged. “We play Morocco [on Wednesday]. I hope Cristiano plays a great match. We’re used to that, not only from the last match but his career as a whole. I hope he and our team are ready. Portugal were European champions with Ronaldo because the captain is very important, but I’ve never seen a player win a match on his own,” he said.
In spite of his words, Santos must know that the star forward simply cannot win the World Cup on his own. The coach need to plan better when facing a defensively strong Iran in their final group game. While Medhi Benatia and co. failed to score against Portugal tonight, other teams with better squad might succeed. For now, it appears Diego Maradona’s warning regarding over-dependency on Ronaldo is proving to be true.