Cristiano Ronaldo is set to play in his first friendly for Portugal as the team prepares for the upcoming World Cup, but Paulo Bento would be wise to rest his star winger beyond Tuesday's fixture against Ireland.
FIFA's official website confirmed Ronaldo is once again training with his teammates, with one of them, Vieirinha, indicating he is fit to play:
The 29-year-old forward has missed Portugal's previous two warm-up matches through injury, hindering their preparations for the Brazil tournament and sparking speculation that he might not be fit in time. But the Real Madrid ace returned to training on Saturday with Paulo Bento's side, who have failed to sparkle in their captain's absence.
Portuguese officials were tight-lipped Sunday about Ronaldo's availability for the Ireland encounter, but forward Vieirinha told reporters: "If he is fit to train, he is fit to play the match."
As admirable as Vieirinha's message may be, fans all over the globe have to hope manager Bento doesn't heed his words. Ronaldo may be fit to train, and he may even be fit to play, but it's a risk Portugal simply cannot take.
Top players have been dropping out of the World Cup in bushes, with the likes of Radamel Falcao, Franck Ribery, Marco Reus and Kevin Strootman all unavailable for their respective countries.
The first three have one thing in common—their teams have found a way to deal with those losses and look to be in excellent form heading into the tournament.
Strootman's Netherlands don't look to be in good form. Louis van Gaal has had to build a new formation from scratch to find a way to deal with the loss of Strootman, and his 5-3-2 has been anything but successful up until this point.
Likewise, Portugal have struggled without Ronaldo. A goalless draw against Greece was a disappointment, and the team didn't look much better in its 1-0 win over Mexico. Bruno Alves scored a late goal to save the Portuguese from embarrassment, and Mexico had several good chances to win the match before that.
Portugal have seen from up close what life without Ronaldo looks like, and it's pretty darn bleak. Group-stage opponents Germany, Ghana and the USA all look to be in better form than both the Greek and Mexican teams, and all three arguably have more quality than either.
Portugal aren't a bad team—even without Ronaldo, they're still the second-best team in that group when looking at nothing but talent. But with Ronaldo, they're so much better.
The forward is the reigning Ballon d'Or holder, and he just won the European boot as Europe's most prolific finisher. He lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy with Real Madrid, and he appears to be in the form of his life.
Choosing between starting and resting him is choosing between building momentum as a team and running the risk of injury. In this case, the risks far outweigh the benefits.
Take a look at Bleacher Report's injury tracker for the Portuguese star. Since May 7, it's been updated 13 times, both to provide fans with good news and to let people know he suffered yet another setback in his recovery.
Ronaldo may very well take the field against Ireland, and he may very well play pain-free for say 60 minutes. But what if he doesn't? What if he pulls up during warm-ups again, like he did against Espanyol?
Or what if he's forced to come off after 10 minutes, like Diego Costa in the Champions League final?
Bento simply can't take that risk. Not with Ronaldo, the heart and soul of his team. Nothing good can come from starting the winger against Ireland, and Ronaldo shouldn't even take a seat on the bench.
Let him rest. Work him back into the team slowly, and make sure both his form and health are as close to 100 percent as possible before the team takes on Germany. Because that is one match Portugal wouldn't want to start without their Ballon d'Or winner on the pitch.
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