Spotlight on Cristiano Ronaldo Once Again as Portuguese Golden Generation Looks to Create History

Cristiano Ronaldo is all set to play his fifth FIFA World Cup as Portugal will be desperate to win the global event for the first time in history. The European giants have been one of the most improved sides in the last decade as they also won two major trophies – Euro 2016 and UEFA Nations League 2019. Ronaldo has been an inspirational figure in the Portugal side but this time he will enter the tournament with some added pressure. A few days before the World Cup, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner gave an explosive interview to Piers Morgan which grabbed the limelight for all the wrong reasons. The 37-year-old slammed his current club Manchester United’s owners – The Glazers and coach Erik Ten Hag. He also lashed out at former teammates Wayne Rooney and Garry Neville who have been critical of him in the last few months for his on-field behaviour and underwhelming form.

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Expectedly, Ronaldo and Manchester United went on to announce their separation in a swift manner. He will be in search of a new club and the Qatar World Cup will be some sort of audition for him. He is unarguably one of the best players to ever play the game but the ageing superstar has not been at his best this season and struggled to find the back of the net which he once used to do at will in the past.

This is probably Portugal’s best chance to get their hands on the World Cup trophy. It’s the golden generation with the likes of players like Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Jao Felix and some more. They have a big leader in Ronaldo to follow who has done on the big stage several times in crunch situations at both club and international levels.

Manager Fernando Santos has picked up a strong squad which has good depth in all the departments but in the last couple of years, they have found it difficult to get out of tricky situations.

The over-reliance on Ronaldo has cost them on several big occasions including Euro 2020 and the qualification round of the World Cup. They were on the verge of getting eliminated from the qualification round itself and eventually had to play in the playoff to qualify for the tournament.

They have an experienced glovesman in Rui Patricio who has been the mainstay for them for the past many years.

In the defensive department, Santos has several options and it will be crucial for Ruben Dias to emulate his Manchester City at the backline in national colours too. While the old-school Pepe still remains a pivotal part of Portugal’s defensive line. Joao Cancelo has emerged as one of the best full-backs in the world at present under the guidance of Pep Guardiola at City. The 28-year-old is known for making the crucial runs from the back to add creativity to the Portuguese side. He is well-equipped with some astonishing skills and a blistering pace to get the better of other players. Diogo Dalot is another talented full back in their line-up who is expected to partner with Cancelo.

Cristiano Ronaldo, center, warms up with his teammates during the Portugal’s official training. (AP Photo)

In the midfield, having a player like Bruno Fernandes should be a blessing for any side but Portugal have failed to get the best out of him. Bruno looked a completely different player in national colours as compared to his performance in the United outfit. He has to turn up big in Qatar to help The Navigators win the coveted trophy.

Santos will have to make a call regarding Bernardo Silva’s position in the line-up. The Manchester City star has been one of the best dribblers in the world in recent times and Guardiola has used him both as a winger and a midfielder and he has done well in both positions. He brings a lot of quality to the squad with his creativity.

While they have other options like Ruben Neves, William Carvalho and a young PSG star Vitinha to line up their midfield.

The Navigators will miss the services of Diogo Jota who was ruled out due to a calf injury. He was an instrumental part of the team’s forward line and has linked up well with Ronaldo on several occasions but the 37-year-old has to find a new partner to light up Qatar.

While his absence might open doors for Andre Silva and Joao Felix to get a place in the starting XI alongside Ronaldo.

Santos has to drop his old tactics in this tournament as relying on Ronaldo to get the job done will not help them get their hands on the World Cup trophy. If they play with the same approach, it might hold back the many other outstanding and far younger talents in the Portugal squad.

The Piers Morgan interview might have felt Ronaldo a bit relieved as a big burden has been off his shoulders entering the tournament but now he has some added pressure to prove himself at the age of 37.

Goalkeepers: Diogo Costa (FC Porto), Jose Sa (Wolverhampton Wanderers FC), Rui Patricio (AS Roma).

Defenders: Diogo Dalot (Manchester United), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Danilo Pereira (Paris St Germain), Pepe (FC Porto), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Antonio Silva (SL Benfica), Nuno Mendes (Paris St Germain), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund).

Midfielders: Joao Palhinha (Fulham FC), Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Joao Mario (SL Benfica), Matheus Nunes (Wolverhampton Wanderers FC), Vitinha (Paris St Germain), William Carvalho (Real Betis), Otavio (FC Porto).

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Rafael Leao (AC Milan), Ricardo Horta (SC Braga), Goncalo Ramos (FC Benfica), Andre Silva (RB Leipzig).

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