Cristiano Ronaldo return inspires Portugal
Portugal boss Paulo Bento was a happy man after watching Cristiano Ronaldo safely negotiate his way through his return from injury ahead of the World Cup finals.
The Real Madrid forward played 66 minutes of his country’s 5-1 friendly victory over the Republic of Ireland at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Ronaldo, who had missed the previous two warm-up games with tendinitis in his left knee and a thigh problem, did not find his way on to the scoresheet, but showed flashes of brilliance, setting up one of striker Hugo Almeida’s two goals and rattling the post with a first-half free-kick.
“Yes, it was important that he played and we would not hide it,” Bento said. “A player like Ronaldo is important for any team, and that’s the case for us. It’s good that he is back.”
Ronaldo’s contribution will put him in line for Portugal’s opener against Germany in Salvador on 16 June, when Bento will hope he has regained a little more of his customary sharpness. However, he was content with what he saw against the Republic.
“I think he had a good match alongside what we did collectively,” added the coach.
“Considering he has been without competitive football for a few weeks, I think he did well.”
Ronaldo and his team-mates needed only two minutes to force their way in front when Almeida capitalised on an inch-perfect cross from impressive winger Varela to head firmly past keeper David Forde.
They doubled their lead with 20 minutes gone, although with the help of a slice of good fortune when Fabio Coentrao’s cross clipped defender Richard Keogh and looped over Forde.
The Ireland keeper was beaten again eight minutes before the break when he could only block Ronaldo’s header to Almeida, who duly obliged and, although James McClean pulled one back for Martin O’Neill’s men seven minutes before the break with his first senior goal for his country, hopes of a fightback were short-lived.
It was substitute Nani who reimposed Portugal’s superiority, first feeding fellow newcomer Vierinha, who scored from close range before setting up Coentrao to round things off seven minutes from time.
It proved a sobering evening for O’Neill and his players as their summer programme drew to a disappointing close.
“I thought we started nervously, and that was something we wanted to try to avoid,” O’Neill said.
“Two of their goals came from our possession, which we gave away needlessly.
“When I finally sit down and analyse it, there should be things I am happy about and obviously things we need to improve.”