World Cup: Ron­aldo primed for likely his last shot for glory

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD CUP -

SOCHI, Rus­sia: Cris­tiano Ron­aldo will launch his lat­est and prob­a­bly last at­tempt to crown his ca­reer with a World Cup win­ners medal when Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Por­tu­gal face neigh­bors Spain in their open­ing World Cup game Fri­day.

The 33-year-old will lock horns with six of his Real Madrid team­mates as the Spa­niards at­tempt to shrug off the shock sack­ing of coach Julen Lopetegui fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment that he will take over at the Bern­abeu next month.

It is worth won­der­ing what Ron­aldo might have known of Lopetegui’s im­mi­nent ap­point­ment at Real, given the re­la­tion­ship both have with Por­tuguese su­per agent Jorge Men­des, at a time when the for­ward’s own club fu­ture re­mains the source of spec­u­la­tion.

But now, amid all that, Ron­aldo’s fo­cus is on the World Cup, the one ma­jor honor still miss­ing from his CV. It is a stretch to make Por­tu­gal one of the fa­vorites to win the tro­phy, even with Ron­aldo, but they are nev­er­the­less in Rus­sia as the reign­ing Euro­pean cham­pi­ons af­ter sur­pris­ing France on home soil two years ago.

Ron­aldo is 33 now, still in fan­tas­tic phys­i­cal con­di­tion and the reign­ing Bal­lon d’Or win­ner. He can prob­a­bly play on for as long as he wants, but it is hard to imag­ine him re­turn­ing for a fifth World Cup in Qatar in 2022. If he is to cap his ca­reer with a World Cup win­ner’s medal, then now is his time, and what bet­ter way to start than by in­spir­ing Por­tu­gal to vic­tory over their neigh­bors and put them­selves in pole po­si­tion in Group B.

“Of course Cris­tiano Ron­aldo is the best player in the world at the mo­ment and he will be the top player at this World Cup. There are no words to de­scribe him,” said ad­mir­ing team­mate Joao Mario at Por­tu­gal’s base near Moscow this week.

Ron­aldo was play­ing the last time Por­tu­gal beat their ri­vals in a ma­jor tour­na­ment, win­ning 1-0 to elim­i­nate Spain in the group stage at Euro 2004. He was just 19 then, and has gone on to be­come his coun­try’s lead­ing scorer with about 81 in­ter­na­tional goals.

He won his 150th cap in the re­cent friendly against Al­ge­ria, and yet he has never quite man­aged to repli­cate his club form on the ma­jor tour­na­ment stage.

He lasted just 25 min­utes be­fore com­ing off in­jured in the Euro 2016 fi­nal, watch­ing from the side­lines as Eder’s ex­tra-time goal shocked France. At the World Cup so far, Ron­aldo has man­aged just three goals in three tour­na­ments: a penalty against Iran in 2006, one against North Korea in 2010 and one against Ghana in 2014.

There will be an ob­vi­ous de­ter­mi­na­tion to im­prove that record in Rus­sia, with Por­tu­gal also fac­ing Morocco and Iran in their group.

But he also needs to act as a fa­ther fig­ure to the tal­ented young mem­bers of Fer­nando San­tos’s squad, like Bernardo Silva, Goncalo Guedes and Gel­son Martins.

The lat­ter is one of four Por­tu­gal play­ers – along with Wil­liam Car­valho, Bruno Fer­nan­des and Rui Pa­tri­cio – who say they will be break­ing their con­tracts with Ron­aldo’s first club, Sport­ing Lis­bon, af­ter be­ing at­tacked by dis­grun­tled fans last month. Ron­aldo has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to unite the squad and fo­cus minds ahead of his fourth World Cup.

“Ron­aldo is our cap­tain, he sets an ex­am­ple for us and is ad­vis­ing us younger play­ers and shar­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Manch­ester City player Silva.

That ex­pe­ri­ence, and in­side knowl­edge of many of the Spain play­ers, will be cru­cial Fri­day by the Black Sea. –

Ron­aldo’s fo­cus is on the World Cup, the one ma­jor honor still miss­ing from his CV.

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