Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal faces a sobering early World Cup exit even if its World Footballer of the Year produces pyrotechnics in its final group game against Ghana.
The Real Madrid player came to the World Cup bracketed alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar as one of a triumvirate of true global superstars.
But while the Barcelona players have produced moments of sublime skill and goals, the attention surrounding Ronaldo has mainly focused on the health or otherwise of his troublesome left knee.
Portugal — fourth in the FIFA world rankings — is at rock bottom of Group ‘G’ with a solitary point from its matches against Germany and the United States, both of which have four points.
It was pummelled 4-0 by Germany and the fact it still has any chance of progressing at all is down to Ronaldo, who delivered a sublime cross for the equaliser in a 2-2 draw against the United States.
Despite that goal, headed in by Silvestre Varela in the dying seconds of time added on, the cold, hard reality is that if the United States and Germany draw in Recife, Portugal and Ghana, who also have one point, are doomed.
Portugal has insisted throughout the tournament that its star player is fit but he has failed to dominate matches in the way he does for his club and admitted that his side’s task is “virtually impossible”.
Ronaldo was sanguine after the match against the Americans, admitting that Portugal, despite its lofty ranking, was never among the favourites to lift the World Cup.
“I never thought we would be world champions. We have to be humble and recognise our limitations. There are things we cannot do, like running faster or having more quality,” he said.
“At the moment there are better teams and better players than our own,” added the 29-year-old, who had an outstanding season for Real that culminated in a 10th Champions League title for the club.
Paulo Bento’s side has also had to cope with a one-match suspension for defender Pepe after a red card in the Germany match and an injury to Fabio Coentrao that ruled him out of the rest of the tournament.
Portugal’s task is made all the more difficult by its goal difference of minus four, meaning it must score a hatful of goals even to be in the mix. Ghana’s goal difference is minus one.
And it is unlikely to have it all its own way when it takes on Ghana in Brasilia after the Black Stars gave Germany a fright before Miroslav Klose equalised to rescue a 2-2 draw.
Despite that setback Ghana, which reached the quarterfinals in South Africa in 2010, still harbours hopes of progressing to the round of 16.
The exact make-up of the team is difficult to predict after Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah made four changes for the Germany match from the side that lost the opening game to the United States, bringing in Schalke star Kevin-Prince Boateng, although he was taken off early in the second-half.
“We ran ourselves into the ground and played really well against a team of the calibre of Germany,” said defender Harrison Afful.
“We’ve still got a game to go and we’re going to give it our all to go through. If we don’t qualify, it won’t be for lack of effort.”