2014 World Cup: Ronaldo relishing Portugal's underdog status
Cristiano Ronaldo finally ended Lionel Messi’s four-year reign as football’s best player in 2013 and a starring role for Portugal at the World Cup finals would cap another stellar season for the astonishing forward.
The 29-year-old from humble roots on the island of Madeira is now a marketing phenomenon with almost 80 million followers on Facebook. He scooped his second Ballon d’Or award in January despite not winning any silverware with Real Madrid last season.
Since joining Real from Manchester United in 2009 for what was then a world record fee of 80 million euros (65.6 million pounds), Ronaldo has shown incredible consistency and Argentina’s Messi is the only player who has bettered his goals tally in the past five seasons.
The sight of Ronaldo sprinting forward on another devastating Real counter-attack or smashing in a free-kick has become as familiar as that of Messi weaving his way towards goal and sliding the ball into the net.
Ronaldo is more like a racehorse, galloping past defenders and firing thunderbolt shots from all directions. He became Portugal’s top goalscorer when two goals in a 5-1 friendly defeat of Cameroon in March took his tally to 49 in 110 games.
Despite the deluge of goals, he has sometimes been accused of going missing in the big games and he failed to score against Spain in the round of 16 at the World Cup finals in 2010 or in the semi-finals of Euro 2012.
However, after an erratic Portuguese qualifying campaign he single-handedly secured their berth at the finals in Brazil when he netted all four goals over the two legs of their 4-2 aggregate success against Sweden in November’s playoff.
Portugal have been drawn with Germany, Ghana and United States in Group G in Brazil and Ronaldo has said he will relish not playing under the same pressure he feels at Real.
Portugal’s best result at a World Cup was third on their first appearance in 1966. “We are not favourites which is good for us, it takes out a lot of pressure,” Ronaldo said in March.
“We know that Spain, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, they are favourites, which is fantastic for us. But I am quite confident we can do it. We have a difficult group, in my opinion, and we are going to go step by step, game by game.
“The first game will be very, very difficult against Germany, but I believe we are going to have a fantastic World Cup, and without pressure, which is amazing.”