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Neil Humphreys
Thursday, Jun 12, 2014

Sports

World Cup: Get set for Rooonaldooo!

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Thursday, Jun 12, 2014

Portugal's superstar won the Champions League with Real Madrid and marched towards the World Cup. But he was humbled by the United States in the group stages. That was Luis Figo in 2002.

Cristiano Ronaldo is determined not to let history repeat itself.

Figo was blessed with superior teammates and half the pressure back in 2002. He was a first among near-equals, the head boy of a golden generation.

Ronaldo is the golden boy in 2014. There is no other.

At Real, the obsessive pursuit of La Decima was shared. For Portugal, a country's expectations are carried only on his broad shoulders.

As the world's best footballer and its most marketable, he is unrivalled when it comes to putting bums on seats and leaving defenders on their backsides.

And he must virtually go it alone in Brazil.

When Ronaldo served his apprenticeship at Euro 2004, he was a rising asset among many.

Nurtured by Figo and Rui Costa, he went on to reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2006 with a squad that included Maniche, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Deco and Pauleta.

But the timing was off. Portugal peaked two tournaments before their finest player.

For the Brazil World Cup, coach Paulo Bento has brought the discipline and a resolute 4-3-3 line-up and Joao Moutinho provides the solidity in central midfield, but the formation gets decidedly flaky going further forward.

William Carvalho has the potential, but not the experience. Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and Luis Nani are all experienced but have largely failed to live up to their potential.

MAIN MAN

Portugal's perennial problem of finding strikers to lessen Ronaldo's scoring load hasn't been solved either.

At Real, the irrepressible No. 7 has been praised for reining in the selfish streak and contributing more assists.

When he pulls on a Portugal jersey and spots either Helder Postiga or Hugo Almeida, he could be forgiven for dropping his head and charging for goal; a desperate bull in a china shop surrounded by lambs.

Instinctive geniuses struggle to empathise when those around them can't communicate on a similar wavelength.

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