Ronaldo needs to end Portugal goal drought at WCup
The World Cup provides a global showcase for soccer's greatest forwards, and if Cristiano Ronaldo wants to ever reach the same status as the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona he must do something he hasn't done for 16 months - score a goal for Portugal.
The tournament in South Africa needs stars like Ronaldo and Argentina's Lionel Messi to produce their skills on the sport's biggest stage, to thrill the billions of spectators watching games on television worldwide.
That means FIFA's 2008 world player of the year will have to break a goal drought stretching back to a friendly game in February 2009 when he scored from the penalty spot against Finland.
In competitive matches, he has not found the net for Portugal since the 2008 European Championship.
``It's not a problem,'' the Real Madrid player said before the tournament. ``I'm saving myself for the World Cup.''
The time to deliver on that promise has come as Portugal readies for its June 15 opener against Ivory Coast.
Ronaldo has the ability to set alight a game, which is why Real Madrid paid Manchester United $118 million for him a year ago.
The Portuguese forward's electrifying bursts of pace, his spellbinding footwork and blistering right-foot shots - which Manchester United fans nicknamed ``Ronny rockets'' - have brought crowds to their feet at Old Trafford and the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Injuries, though, have unsettled Ronaldo's international career. He played in just seven of Portugal's 12 World Cup qualifying matches and in some games was still recovering from injury.
In 73 appearances since his 2003 debut, Ronaldo has scored 22 goals.
Still, Portuguese fans grumble that his inability to reproduce his club form at international level is partly to blame for Portugal's recent below-par performances, including a 0-0 draw against tiny Cape Verde last month.
In his last two seasons, at United and Madrid, he has scored more than 70 goals.
With winger Nani, Ronaldo's former teammate at Manchester United, ruled out of the World Cup due to a bruised collarbone, Portugal may need Ronaldo more than ever.
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz has tried to ease the tension surrounding Ronaldo's goalscoring difficulties. When asked about it last week he replied, in English, ``Leave them kids alone.''
``The more you leave the players in peace the more they'll score,'' he added.
While he waves away talk of a crisis, Ronaldo's recent comments and performances have betrayed the nagging pressure.
In a 3-1 win against Cameroon in an exhibition match 10 days ago, Ronaldo time and again went for goal only to see the goalkeeper produce a superb reflex save or stick out a foot to deny him, and the anguish showed on his face.
When reporters tried to ask him questions after the match he walked away saying, with a gesture towards his teammates, ``Talk to them, they're the heroes.''
Ronaldo was left off Portugal's starting lineup for Tuesday's warmup game against Mozambique in Johannesburg as Queiroz handed Danny a rare start. Ronaldo came on for the last 30 minutes and, after the goalkeeper failed to hold his thundering shot with 10 minutes to go, Hugo Almeida tapped in the ball for the final 3-0 score.
Some standout performances from Ronaldo could lend precious momentum to Portugal's ambitions in South Africa where it faces a hard task advancing from Group G, which also includes Brazil and North Korea.
Portugal is ranked third in the world by FIFA and reached the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But for all its star players' skills it still has no silverware.