Can Cristiano carry Portugal?

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during a training session for the FIFA World Cup....

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during a training session for the FIFA World Cup. (REUTERS/Rafael Marchante)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:06 AM ET

Cristiano Ronaldo.

Is that all there is to Portugal’s 2010 World Cup story?

Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo is the song we’ll hear over and over for Portugal in South Africa.

One of the Top 5 dynamic players in the world, Portugal will have to come to terms with the fact that its fate is intertwined with how well Ronaldo plays.

Portugal isn’t only Ronaldo. They have a lot of other talent. But Ronaldo will have to excel for the first time in a major national competition for the rest of that talent to succeed.

Yes, Ronaldo has been successful at the domesitic and international club level. He was surrounded by some of the best players in the world. They made each other better.

Ronaldo needs to make Portugal better by rising to the level of his talent, something he didn’t do in qualifying rounds even before he was hurt and something he didn’t do in Euro 2008.

Will it finally be his time in 2010 in South Africa?

The greatest players in the world have used the World Cup stage to announce their greatness whether in victory or performance. Pele in 1958 and 1970; Franz Beckenbauer in 1974; Johan Cruyff 1974; Maradona in 1986; Zinedine Zidane in 1998.

Portugal’s story is not much different than many teams in this World Cup. It has great talent in some areas and glaring holes in others.

Portugal’s talent lies in ball control and offensive movement. The Portuguese rank at the top of the list along with Spain and Brazil when it comes to ball movement and dominating possession.

Their failure has been in capping off all that ball control with goals. They get the ball to the feet of Ronaldo and hope he can weave his magic. Everyone else knows that and will stomp him. That’s the fate of all great players.

Without help, Ronaldo will grow frustrated and wear out. This time though, Portugal hopes to have found a pure goalscorer who will convert some of the chances that Ronaldo creates or are created because of him, someone who can take some pressure off Ronaldo.

Liedson, a Brazilian-born striker, obtained Portuguese citizenship last year. Good thing. It came just in time for some of Portugal’s qualifying matches. He began to score and hasn’t stopped since.

Add Simao into the mix and this Portuguese team may finally earn a reward for all their offensive work.

“(Liedson’s) the kind of striker that can transform a game,” said Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz in a newspaper interview. “What we sometimes lack — and it doesn’t date from yesterday — is the end-product, the goals. When we take our chances consistently, we will be just about unbeatable. That said, I’m optimistic we do have the answers. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Liedson are exceptional goal scorers. In South Africa they will prove it.”

Unbeatable? Hardly. But Portugal is better off than it was during its awful qualifying experience that went to a playoff game.

Queiroz needs others to prove themselves. Queiroz himself has spent most of his coaching career as an assistant and he will be under the microscope.

Portugal will also need to get something from their veteran midfielder Deco. He has been up and down, mostly down, recently. He’s 32 and needs to regain some of his spark.

The glaring holes the Portuguese must plug are at the back. Portugal will miss Jose Bosingwa, out with a knee injury, but have Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira. Are they still good enough?

They need to be. Portugal is hurt by quick-strike goals, high balls and set pieces.

When you are in a Group of Death with Brazil and the Ivory Coast, defence is not a position you want to find yourself worrying about.

Portugal is lucky to be in the tournament. If it is lucky enough to get out of this group it will be prepared for whatever else the tournament holds.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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