| Cristiano Ronaldo, on Tuesday |
Florham Park (US): Portugal were gearing up for the World Cup in New Jersey, fretting over the fitness of their main man Cristiano Ronaldo.
With the World Cup looming, the Ballon d’Or winner, had some bad news about his recent aches and pains.
Ronaldo has a “muscle injury on the back of his left thigh as well as left-leg patellar tendinitis,” the Portuguese Football Association said on Tuesday in a report on his medical issues and those of stars Raul Meireles, Pepe and Beto.
Amid some heavy downpours, the four spent their time at the New York Jets’ training centre, grinding it out and doing different exercises meant to get them in the best possible shape in the final sprint before the World Cup starts June 12. While Portugal have previously discussed superstar Ronaldo’s thigh injury — sustained late in the season — it was the first time they reported patellar tendinitis.
Ronaldo had several minor niggles during the closing weeks of the 2013-14 domestic season, but went on to play 120 minutes in the Champions League final success against Atletico Madrid.
Real president Florentino Perez earlier urged the national team not to risk the 29-year-old if he was not fully fit.
“I am concerned that any player can pick up a serious injury, as has happened (in the past) with Kaka and (Sami) Khedira. A player like Cristiano Ronaldo should only play if he is fit,” Perez had said.
The Portuguese have been drawn in Group G at the World Cup and will face Germany on June 16 in Salvador, the United States a week later in Manaus and then Ghana on June 26 in Brasilia.
“We hope that Cristiano is in good enough shape to play and to help the team,” teammate Nani, who plays for Manchester United, told reporters.
“Ronaldo is going well, and he is relaxed about it... Things are going the right way,” he added, after hundreds of fans welcomed the team at the Newark airport in New Jersey, just outside New York City.
Portugal will play two friendlies while in the United States.
They take on Mexico in Foxboro near Boston on Friday at the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.
Next Tuesday they face Ireland.
Portugal had already played Greece in a friendly last Saturday in Ronaldo’s absence
Nani, 27, who missed out on the last World Cup in South Africa due to a shoulder injury, said fitness woes can make a player “distracted and less sure of himself.”
“If for some reason (Ronaldo) is not there, whoever is there playing has to be confident in their ability to get the job done,” he said.
“The World Cup is a one-of-a-kind challenge. I want to be fully fit, and in top form alongside my teammates. I could not be there last time, but happily, I am here now,” said Nani, who has played 73 games and scored 14 goals with Portugal’s national side.
He said the first clash with Germany will be key to setting the tone for the rest of the tournament, preferably a winning one.
Earlier, coach Paulo Bento had said that his side needs to step up if Ronaldo is not fit. “We will have to compete with whatever resources we have. Portugal, Real Madrid or Manchester United were always stronger when they had a player with Ronaldo’s ability.
“If teams that train every day together depend on him, why should we be afraid of saying he has an enormous influence on our team?
“But then, we can’t get disheartened and get bogged down when he’s not available for selection. We have to prepare to play and be competitive without Ronaldo,” Bento had said.
Elsewhere, Frank Ribery remains a huge doubt for France ahead of the World Cup. A French television had reported Ribery had been suffering with back problems for six weeks and was undergoing treatment. “Any announcement about him pulling out (of the World Cup squad) is premature,” a team official was quoted as saying.
Ribery did not play in France's first World Cup warm-up game against Norway and will not feature in Sunday's friendly against Paraguay in Nice.
However, if Ribery doesn't make it, Samir Nasri won't be considered as a replacement.
Remy Cabella of Montpellier - once a target for Newcastle - and Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette are likely to fight it out for the standby spot should Ribery not make it. France coach Didier Deschamps, though, remains optimistic about Ribery attaining match fitness ahead of the World Cup.
“We would do everything possible to get him ready,” Deschamps said.