Like his one-time Manchester United team-mate, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo is a footballer who operates at the limits of his country's expectations. When a reporter asked why he was in such poor form and had not scored a competitive goal for Portugal in two years, the world's most marketable footballer snapped back: "Are you from Barcelona? I'll tell you something – I'll score tomorrow."
Although Ronaldo claimed to not be feeling any added pressure, the exchange – like Rooney's outburst against England supporters in the same stadium – demonstrated that great talent does not provide protection against abuse.
Naturally, Ronaldo had sympathy for Rooney. "Wayne tries very hard but it is difficult when things don't happen," he said. "If a team doesn't score, it is always the big player's fault. Wayne is a big player but he cannot do it on his own.
"I enjoy the England games and I am quite surprised they haven't won. They tried hard but football is like that and, yes, I do miss Manchester but I am not frustrated; I feel good and the atmosphere in the squad is brilliant."
This match is sure to evoke comparisons with the extraordinary quarter-final at Goodison Park in 1966 that saw Korea race to a three-goal lead before Eusebio scored four times.
Had Ronaldo's vicious drive not struck the post in the opening fixture with Ivory Coast, nobody would have mentioned his failure to find the net. That goalless draw in Port Elizabeth – and the fact their final fixture pits them against Brazil – has led many to suggest that the number of goals scored against North Korea might determine qualification.
Like so many of Europe's leading nations, Portugal have struggled to make an impact in South Africa, although Ronaldo put that down to early-tournament nerves and inexperience: "At this stage, I am not concerned about goal difference; our main concern is to win and, if we do it by a large margin, then so much the better."Reuse content