Germany vs Portugal World Cup 2014: Nervous Portuguese wait on Cristiano Ronaldo fitness

Bruno Alves knows team are counting on their struggling captain to be fit

For Portugal’s squad, the welcome at their World Cup base in the southern university city of Campinas on Wednesday could not have been warmer. There waiting to greet them at The Palms resort was a group from the local Casa Portugal dressed in traditional Portuguese costume and performing folk dances.

The arrival of 200 kilos of codfish flown across the Atlantic for the team chef ensured another taste of home for Paulo Bento’s men, but Portugal, in a World Cup taking place in their former colony of Brazil, may soon find themselves on trickier terrain.

It is tempting to assume that for Portugal, this Brazilian World Cup must have the feel of an English cricket or rugby tour to Australia – and we all know how badly those can turn out. Brazilians like to depict their old colonial overlords as dimwits, with jokes along the lines of “How many Portuguese does it take to fix a light bulb?”, and if Portugal’s footballers are to avoid the joke being on them, they will need Cristiano Ronaldo to shake off the fitness problems that have hampered his preparations ahead of a demanding programme.

Tomorrow they face Germany, with games against the USA and Ghana in Group G to follow, and in the words of defender Bruno Alves, they need to go into these tests with their leader, Ronaldo, currently suffering from tendinosis in the region around his left kneecap. “The biggest figure in world football has to be here and help us achieve our aims,” said Alves. “We count on our captain.”

Ronaldo struggled with a knee problem earlier in the season and faced doubts over his fitness before the Champions’ League final; although he scored Madrid’s fourth goal from the penalty spot that night, his impact was not what it might have been. Unlike Wayne Rooney, for instance, he can be a big influence even when not at maximum fitness, but when you factor in an additional calf problem, it is easy to understand why Portugal is holding its collective breath.

Cristiano Ronaldo limps out of training with an ice pack on his knee  

Nani is not a bad player but as a source of match-winning inspiration, he would be no substitute for Ronaldo, who scored a stunning  hat-trick in the qualifying play-off against Sweden in Stockholm last November to drag Portugal into these finals. Even in Brazil, a country afflicted by Neymar-mania, there is a recognition that he is the world’s best player – even if it is influenced by the fact Lionel Messi is Argentinian.

Ronaldo will want to underline this point, and at 29 this is probably the final chance for him to really light up a World Cup in a manner befitting a player who has opened a museum dedicated to himself on his home island of Madeira. Although he became Portugal’s all-time record scorer when his two goals against Cameroon in March raised his total to 49 from 111 appearances, in World Cup finals he has struck just twice in 10 outings – a penalty against Iran in 2006, and the last of Portugal’s seven against North Korea four years ago. In mitigation, in 2006 he had yet to become the scoring force he is today; he has just recorded 31 La Liga goals and another 17 in the Champions’ League in a campaign where there was no holding back with the World Cup in mind.

The result is that he sat out two friendlies before featuring for 65 minutes of the team’s final warm-up fixture against the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday, and then sparked a flurry of over-anxious headlines on Thursday when pictured on the training pitch with an icepack on his left knee. It is a situation that dismays Tostao, the former Brazil World Cup winner-turned-journalist, who lamented in his newspaper column here the fitness problems troubling men like Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. “It’s a shame that a lot of ‘craques’ [top players] are not at the Copa and that others are not in top condition. Teams across the world play too much and the gap between the end of national competitions and the start of the World Cup is  very short.”

For Portugal, it may not be the only negative they encounter on their Brazilian adventure, as those assuming they will be widely backed as every Brazilian’s second favourite team would be mistaken. There are footballing connections between the nations along with the colonial ones – from the mutual admiration between Eusebio and Pele via Luiz Felipe Scolari’s stint as national coach to the presence of Brazil-born Pepe in today’s squad – but it is a complicated relationship.

This is particularly the case in Salvador in the northeastern state of Bahia, the place where Portugal kick off their campaign against Germany and to which they will return in the Round of 16 should they finish as group runners-up.

In the Independent on Sunday’s straw poll of three Salvador taxi drivers, not one would consider taking Portugal as their second team. The fact that one named Cameroon was more illustrative of a city which, with Brazil’s largest black and mixed-race population, looks to Africa rather than Portugal.

Salvador owes its beautiful renaissance architecture to the Portuguese colonialists who made it Brazil’s first capital city in the 16th century yet when the Portuguese court moved south to Rio, the African influence took over in a place which was the first slave centre in the new world.

Unlike in Rio, Portuguese fans will struggle to find a Portuguese restaurant in a city which as Pedro Vasconcelos, a professor at the Federal University of Bahia, explains, carried on fighting the Portuguese for almost a year after Brazil’s independence had been declared in 1822. “It was the only place where battles were fought to get rid of the Portuguese,” he says. Portugal’s footballers will hope that is not an omen.

 

Germany v Portugal is  live on ITV1 tomorrow, kick-off 5pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'