Five-Star Ronaldo Inspires Portugal

Portugal-v-Netherlands-Group-B-UEFA-EURO-2012-891757IF there was any worry of rust or hindrance from Cristiano Ronaldo, it had already dissipated in the opening minute on Tuesday night, when he dribbled through Ireland’s defence and unleashed the first of his many threatening shots.

And by the end of Portugal’s 5-1 romp, Ronaldo left MetLife Stadium unscathed and back to his usual soccer brilliance, which is not a good sign for a U.S. team that will attempt to get past the Portuguese and out of its World Cup “Group of Death.”

Returning from a two-match absence because of left knee tendinitis an injury that also kept Ronaldo out of training and cast a pall over Portugal’s World Cup hopes — the 29-year-old striker was in the mix on two of the first three goals, and there would’ve been more if the ball had bounced a different way on a couple of occasions. He didn’t score, but was clearly the best player on the field of Portugal’s final World Cup tuneup. The reigning FIFA Player of the Year was subbed out to a standing ovation in the 65th minute, managing to keep his shirt on for the entire match. His status for the game had been up in the air up until Monday’s training session.

“He had a good match. Considering he hadn’t played competitively for a few weeks, I thought he did well,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “Players like Ronaldo are definitely important for any team they play for. It’s good for us. We are delighted.”

The Portuguese are grouped with the U.S. in the World Cup, along with Germany and Ghana. They face Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad in the second match of the group stage on June 22 in Manaus. Bento declined to comment on the game against the U.S., saying he’s focused only on Portugal’s opener against Germany on Monday.

But there is reason to feel confident while touting a healthy Ronaldo. Without him, the Portuguese tied Greece and barely toppled Mexico in the preceding World Cup tuneups.

The announced crowd of 46,063 was heavy on the Portugal fans, with Ronaldo No. 7 jerseys the attire of choice. They were treated to his top class on the ball as Ronaldo’s shots forced Ireland’s keeper David Forde into multiple diving stops, including a header that resulted in Portugual’s third goal in the 37th minute off the rebound. He also had a free kick from 30 yards that hit the post, and a nifty back heel pass that evolved into another goal. – NY Daily News

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