FIFA RANK: 3
I mentioned the immense pressure to win at this summer's World Cup for countries like England and Netherlands, but when it comes to individual players, nobody feels more pressure to lead his country to glory than Portugese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Real Madrid playmaker has reached what I would call David Beckham status. Off the field, Ronaldo is the biggest soccer celebrity in the game. He is followed so much by paparazzi in Europe, it puts TMZ.com to shame. Go to Google and type in "CRI" in the search bar and one of the first things that pops up is Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the field, he has surpassed Beckham status. Ronaldo is arguably the most explosive player in the world. The 2008 FIFA player of the year can score from anywhere on the field. Its no slight to Becks, he was a great mid-fielder for England, but Ronaldo's power, speed and skill take him to another level. Despite all that, Cristiano has never been able to bring an international title to the Portugese faithful, much like Beckham was never able to do for England.
Ronaldo and the Portugese have come painfully close a few times. "Os Navegadores" (The Navigators) made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup four years ago and suffered a heartbreaker to the Greeks in the Euro '04 final, a tournament they hosted and were heavy favorites. It's safe to say that in the past 15 years, the Portugese have become a world power and Ronaldo isn't the only driving force.
The roster is loaded with talent, mostly in the mid-field and wings. Simao was the top scorer for the Portugese during qualifying and stepped up his game while Ronaldo was injured. The Brazilian born mid-fielder Deco is a crafty veteran who is still the squad's top playmaker. And for all the adoration Ronaldo gets, the heart of this team is on the back line, which is one the best in South Africa. Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves are defensive rocks. Alves is the squad's vocal and emotional leader. He willed this team to two crucial victories over Albania and Bosnia when it appeared the Navigators may not make the World Cup.
The Portugese will need all "decks on hand" (get it...because they are called the Navigators, ok sorry, moving on) to get out of the group. Portugal was drawn into the "Group of Death" with favorites Brazil and African power Ivory Coast. The road gets even more difficult if they make it out the group because Spain will most likely be waiting in the next round.
It's a brutal stretch that will no doubt test this team and its star Cristiano Ronaldo. Like I mentioned, he's already the biggest name in the game, but if he were to lead Portugal to its first international trophy, he would move up to legendary status. And like the recent "Nike Soccer" commercial shows us, stadiums would be built in his name and a movie would be made about his career. Undoubtedly the most pressure anyone faces in South Africa.
June 15 vs. Ivory Coast - 9 a.m. CT (Key is Drogba's heath for Ivory Coast, if he's out, then I expect Portugese to win)
June 21 vs. North Korea - 6:30 a.m. CT (Must get points here, and I have no doubt Portugal will)
June 25 vs. Brazil - 9 a.m. CT (One of the best matches in group stages if both teams still have to play for points)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: SPAIN