Cristiano Ronaldo's injury concerns puts Portugal behind the eight ball
JUN 04, 2014 5:47p ET
FLORAL PARK, N.J. --
Secrecy, mystery, intrigue and an earth-rattling thunderstorm shrouded Portugal's first training session on American soil on Tuesday, as USA's opponents at the upcoming World Cup in Brazil trained separately from their superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo yet again.
Ronaldo joined the Portuguese, who will face the Yanks in Manaus on June 22 in each team's second group stage contest, in their preparatory camp last Thursday, after winning the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid on May 24. But he hasn't trained fully since.
Thursday was the first time he has trained outdoors since leaving Real, having previously been confined to the gym. And, with just eleventh days remaining until Portugal's opener against Germany, he still hasn't done any ball work.
To call Portugal a one-man team isn't right, exactly. They have a fair amount of depth in each line. But there is no doubt that Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year, is hurt. But nobody seems to know, or be willing to let on, when he got hurt, how he got hurt, precisely where he is hurt and how much longer he'll be hurt for. The injury appears much more serious than the Portuguese camp would like to admit.
So rumors ran rampant. It's been reported as a muscular injury in his left thigh. But some Portuguese reporters insisted it's a knee injury. Perhaps even the dreaded ligament-damage. One journalist claimed a Real Madrid doctor had accompanied Ronaldo to the Portuguese camp, which would be a clear sign that he carried a more troubling injury than some muscle discomfort. "Nobody knows," one Portuguese reporter said, throwing up his arms in despair at the lack of information. The Portuguese federation released a statement claiming it was tendinitis later in the day.
The media was only allowed to observe Portugal's warm-up from behind a rope along the sideline, as Ronaldo ran laps with midfielder Raul Meireles and backup goalkeeper Beto, who are also injured, on an adjacent field far off in the distance.
It was the first time the Portuguese press had seen the playboy forward in days. Whereas the United States run a transparent camp, Portugal's is maddeningly opaque. Just one player is made available to the media every day, for no more than 10 minutes. And his identity is announced just five minutes prior, allowing no time to prepare a line of questioning.
During the two-hour lightning-delay to Portugal's practice session, the sizable pack of eager Portuguese cameramen took to filming the rain dumping on the lush grass at the New York Jets' practice facility. They seem so hard up for material that the storm passes for news.
Mother Earth hadn't been welcoming to the USA's opponents in what could perhaps be their most crucial game in a diabolical group. The clouds above boomed and roared, keeping inside the team the Americans will have to get a result against. Their first game against Ghana is a must-win because their last against Germany doesn't inspire much hope for points. So it all could hinge on the Portugal game, from which the Americans will surely need to gain a result -- the way they did in 2002, when they upset them in their opener.
The Portuguese play Germany first. And it seems fairly unlikely that Ronaldo will see any prolonged action until then. That means he'll probably miss all or most of Portugal's final tune-up games against Mexico on Friday in Foxborough, Mass. and against the Republic of Ireland at the Meadowlands in New Jersey next Tuesday.
Because Portugal, like the USA, can't afford to lose their opener. âI think [our biggest challenge] is the first game against the German team," said winger Nani, who also plays for Manchester United. "The first game is always the most important."
Between the nagging injury to their star man and the prospect of having to play one of the tournament favorites right off the bat, you can't blame the Portuguese for not having worried about the United States a whole lot yet.
Nani, the only player to speak on Tuesday, seemed to have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Americans. "I saw United States playing last World Cup. I saw a couple games after then and I can see they are a very strong team, fast players," he said with the customary reverence for an opponent. "They have great determination to win the games and cause the problems for the opponent. We know every team we play at the World Cup is very difficult."
But it's clear this isn't the game that's keeping him and his peers awake at night. Nor have they worried, as the Americans have, about having to play it in the middle of the Amazon, in malarial Manaus. "I don't know nothing about Manaus," Nani said with a slightly embarrassed chuckle. "But I hope we have a great time there."
Before they do, they'll wrap up their secretive camp in New Jersey. And cross their fingers that Ronaldo will heal from whatever ails him before anyone catches on what that may be.