Ronaldo key to Portugal recovery as US challenge looms
A wounded Portugal, still smarting from a 4-0 defeat by Germany, are fervently hoping that talismanic forward Cristiano Ronaldo is fit when they take on the United States in their second World Cup Group G game today.
The thrashing was the biggest ever loss the Portuguese have suffered at a World Cup and their misery deepened as central defender Pepe was sent off while Ronaldo struggled for form as he battled a knee injury.
The world player of the year will need to be back to his best for the clash with the Americans, who surprisingly beat Ghana 2-1 in their opening game.
Rumours about Ronaldo’s condition have been swirling across the internet and officials were forced to deny reports that his personal doctor had advised him to quit the tournament.
A few days’ rest seem to have helped and his team mate Miguel Veloso said the player appeared to be in good shape.
“I’m not a doctor but from what I see, Ronaldo is fine,” Veloso told reporters after a training session in Campinas.
“He is training, he is jumping and he is shooting. There is not much else to say.”
Ronaldo, who was suffering from tendinosis in his left knee several weeks before the 32-nation tournament, was photographed walking out of Wednesday’s training session early with an ice pack on his left knee.
Also of concern to coach Paolo Bento is the need to find the right replacements for the suspended Pepe and injured left back Fabio Coentrao whose involvement in the tournament is over.
Goalkeeper Rui Patricio and striker Hugo Almeida were also nursing knocks but have been ruled fit to play, although the latter could be dropped for Helder Postiga after a lacklustre performance against Germany.
The United States will hope to reproduce the inspired display from the 2002 World Cup when they beat Portugal 3-2 in the group stage, a win which helped them advance to the last 16 at the expense of their rivals.
Coach Juergen Klinsmann, who was in charge of his native Germany when they beat Portugal 3-1 in the 2006 tournament’s third-place match, said he expected Ronaldo to fire on all cylinders in the hot and humid city of Manaus.
Klinsmann also hopes that his walking wounded recover, in particular Clint Dempsey who broke his nose after taking a boot to the face against Ghana shortly after scoring inside a minute.
“Now (Portugal) are going to come into Manaus pretty angry and I don’t know how Ronaldo is going to perform when he is angry. We need to show Portugal how good we are,” he said.
Kompany a worry for Belgium ahead of Russian test
Belgium head into today’s World Cup Group H clash with Russia at the Maracana stadium with a worry over the fitness of skipper Vincent Kompany.
Kompany missed training for the second straight day on Friday while he gets attention to a groin strain picked up late in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Algeria.
“Vincent felt something in the final few minutes and was not able to sprint 100 per cent,” said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots.
“He hoped that resting it overnight would resolve the problem, but it wasn’t the case and on Wednesday morning he still had pain in the left groin.
“We decided he would work alone from the rest of the squad for two days with the physiotherapist Lieven Maesschalk and the medical staff. All being well, he will be back training with the rest of the squad on Saturday.”
Kompany’s importance to the team goes well beyond his accomplished performances at centre half, given he is the well-established leader and defensive organiser.
Should the Manchester City defender not make it then Wilmots would have to turn to Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Ciman or Nicolas Lombaerts as cover.
Russia drew 1-1 with South Korea in their opening game and coach Fabio Capello is likely to stick with goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev despite his blunder in that game.
Akinfeev let a long range Lee Keun-ho shot slip through his body to gift the lead to the Koreans.
“Just like some players can miss penalties it can happen that a keeper makes a mistake as well,” said Capello.
“You can accept a mistake from a great keeper like Akinfeev. It turned out fine as we were able to make up the difference. I’m very happy with Akinfeev,” he said.
Capello, who turned 68 on Wednesday, said he hoped to see his side pick up where they left off with their second half performance against the Koreans.
“The way our team played at the end of the second half was the best possible birthday present they could have given me.
Algeria ready to turn goal trickle into flood
Algeria scored their first World Cup goal in 28 years in their opener and will hope the offensive floodgates have opened in a crucial Group H match against a leaky South Korea today.
With dark horse Belgium sitting atop the group standings and Russia and Korea joint second after an opening 1-1 draw, Algeria will be fighting for their World Cup lives on Sunday at Porto Alegre’s Beira Rio stadium.
Back in the World Cup for the fourth time, the ‘Desert Foxes’ have never made it past the first round and will need a result against the Koreans if they are to extend their stay in Brazil.
The only Arab nation present at the tournament, the Algerians arrive at this gritty port city believing a place in the last 16 is within their reach after going down 2-1 to highly rated Belgium.
Confidence and mood, however, will not be as high in the South Korean camp after sloppy play in their back end cost them a victory against Russia.
After yielding 11 goals in five World Cup warm-ups, the Koreans again looked vulnerable at the back in their opener and Algeria’s coach Vahid Halilhodzic will be plotting to add to their woes.
When Sofiane Feghouli converted a spot kick to give Algeria a 1-0 lead over Belgium, the Arab nation celebrated their World Cup finals goal since 1986 and were on course for a famous upset until the Europeans struck twice in the last 20 minutes.
“We could have won,” lamented Halilhodzic. “We were heroic in the first half. At half-time I was sure we would make it. We’ve missed a major opportunity. But I don’t want to blame anyone. You can say I am the one to be blamed, as usual.
“Belgium is one of the best teams in Europe. My team gave as much as they could in the present time.”
South Korea, fourth place finishers in 2002 on home soil, also see the contest as a must-win with group favourites Belgium looming on the horizon.
“We have to defeat them to get to the round of 16,” said Korean midfielder Koo Ja-cheol. “We’ll concentrate on doing whatever it takes to win.”