The Portugal midfielder Deco said that his team's star player would come good in the first fixture in the World Cup's Group of Death
For Portugal, burdened with the world's most expensive and most extravagantly eye-catching footballer, the possibilities of this World Cup seem to run along two tracks. Either Cristiano Ronaldo plays as he can, as he did briefly at Euro 2008, and Carlos Queiroz's team shape up as outsiders as dangerous as their talent proposes – or Ronaldo plays as he did in qualifying, failing to score in seven matches as his country limped towards South Africa via a play-off with Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Portugal play Ivory Coast in their Group G opener and Ronaldo's uneven international performances – compared to his muscular and urgent presence at club level – are, as ever, a preoccupation.
"Everyone talks about Cristiano Ronaldo – it's natural because he is the player he is," the midfielder Deco said . "But we can only get anywhere if we are a team. It's the whole team that matters. It's important he scores goals and those goals will help us to get through to the next phase and maybe win it. Whether Cristiano Ronaldo scores or not, there's no concern as long as we score as a team."
The man himself has been more bullish on his prospects of adding to his 22 goals in 72 caps, predicting with his customary, vibrant sense of self-worth that goals would soon emerge "like ketchup from a bottle". That is, in a decisive splurge.
"I don't know what Cristiano really wanted to say with that," Deco said. "I need to ask him what he is going to do with that ketchup."
Some might say this is a tournament that could do with a healthy shot of sauce. Perhaps Group G can provide it. Within moments of its emergence in Zurich, with Brazil and North Korea also drawn, it was christened as that World Cup staple, the Group of Death. It now, however, seems the group most likely to provide a welcome spark of vivacity.
Certainly it seems unlikely that Ivory Coast would be so keen to risk their star forward if they were in a group with a margin for error. Didier Drogba broke his right arm in their final warm-up, against Switzerland 11 days ago. He may well play today – he has, unofficially, resumed training and has sought permission from Fifa to wear a cast. Perhaps alone among his countrymen, Deco would be happy to see his Chelsea team-mate take the field.
"I haven't spoken to Didier and I don't know if he is going to play but I hope so because he is a friend," he said. "If he plays, it will be good for the game."
Portugal arrived in Port Elizabeth yesterday diminished by injuries of their own. Most notably, Manchester United's Nani, a likely starter on the right wing, has flown home after dislocating a shoulder in training. However, the player has since suggested he could be fit to return within the week, leading to some speculation that his departure might have been for reasons other than fitness. That was something upon which Queiroz refused to be drawn: "If Nani is ready in four days, that's wonderful, but the most important thing is for us to focus on our goal tomorrow. So, with all due respect to Nani, that is what we are focusing on."
Perhaps the sight of Sven-Goran Eriksson in the opposition dugout might bring the best out of Portugal, as it did when Eriksson took England to Euro 2004 and the last World Cup. The Swede's preparation has centred on what will happen should his leading man miss out. Salomon Kalou and the CSKA Moscow striker Seydou Doumbia will provide a significantly less intimidating frontline than one featuring Drogba.
The fitness and form of both teams' superstar attacker looks likely to dictate the outcome of such a vital opener. If any further incentive is needed, it is that defeat could leave the losers needing to beat Brazil to escape the group.
© Guardian News and Media 2010