Ronaldo vows Portugal will gain momentum

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The Independent Football

Cristiano Ronaldo has promised fans who were underwhelmed by Portugal's narrow victory over Angola on Sunday evening that the team's performances will improve.

The Euro 2004 runners-up take on Iran in Frankfurt on Saturday in their next Group D encounter before turning their attention to the toughest assignment before the knock-out stage - the showdown with Mexico on 21 June.

Angola, the poverty-stricken southern African nation currently in the grip of a cholera epidemic, had never played in a World Cup before and previous games against their former colonial rulers, Portugal, had ended in heavy defeats. But despite taking a fourth-minute lead through Pauleta, Luiz Felipe Scolari's side could not add to the total and many of the fans who filled Cologne's RheinEnergieStadion voiced their disapproval in the second half.

However, Ronaldo was confident that the campaign would soon gather momentum. "We started well and we will play better in the next game," he said. "Angola were a good team who made us fight all the way. Iran are also a good team but we know if we win we are already almost past the group stage."

On a personal level, the Manchester United winger suffered a frustrating evening with a header from a Luis Figo corner that bounced back off the crossbar and another well-struck drive which was saved by Angola's club-less veteran goalkeeper Joao Ricardo.

It was an evening that also ended early as he was the first to be substituted by Scolari, the 2002 World Cup-winning coach with Brazil, and he looked far from happy as he trudged off on the hour mark. But the 21-year-old did not want to make an issue of it afterwards. "I accept the coach's decision," he said.

Another of the coach's decisions was to have left out Deco altogether, with the Barcelona playmaker having suffered an ankle injury in training.

"Playing could have made the injury worse so if we want to continue in the World Cup and have him in perfect condition then the best thing was to keep him out of this game," Scolari said. "If it had been Mexico to decide qualification then we might have risked him but we have two more games to go and two more quality players who can play in his position."

The Angolans, many of whom either play or have played club football in Portugal, now move on to Hanover, where they take on Mexico on Friday. Another defeat would be likely to end their adventure there and then but their coach, Luis Goncalves, was not impressed with the suggestion that the game was a matter of "life and death", especially as Angola is a nation with a low life expectancy that has been ripped apart by civil war for the past three decades. He said: "No, we don't look at things in terms of life and death. We know we have to be realistic and we know Mexico are favourites but we are going to try to complicate things. We are going to ask our players to win the game. We will not just defend."

Widely expected to concede a barrage of goals against the Group D favourites, they left the stadium reasonably happy with a 1-0 defeat. The midfielder Figueiredo said: "We are quite content because we played well enough in the game and we were dignified. But we are not totally happy because of the goal. We always want to win and we really wanted to win against Portugal."

With all the excitement about historical ties and World Cup debuts now consigned to the archives, Figueiredo said they would now just focus on tactics for Friday's Mexico meeting. "We will go back to the training field and work on building on our strengths and correcting our weaknesses," he said. "We want to win the game against Mexico. They are a very strong team, on a par with Portugal, and we respect them. But we don't want another moral victory, we want a real victory with three points."

Aside from the epic nature of Sunday's match, some Angolan players privately admitted being unnerved by the "spectacular atmosphere" in the RheinEnergieStadion. The goalkeeper Joao Ricardo said: "Maybe we were a little bit nervous. It was a huge occasion for us. Not all our players are used to performing in such conditions."

Overcoming their early jitters, when Portugal's Pauleta scored the only goal in the fourth minute, the "Palancas Negras" battled hard and frustrated their old colonial foe, instilling some faith that they can do better. "This performance has given us confidence for the next game," Ricardo added. "Even though it was a defeat, I think we will be a little more ambitious, a little more positive in the next game against Mexico."