SALVADOR, BRAZIL — It is safe to say that this was not part of the plan. If there was much angst outside the Portugal camp on the subject of Cristiano Ronaldo's fitness, the comprehensive opening match defeat to Germany shifted the focus.
Few expected such a stark jolt to Portugal's hopes, but criticism of Ronaldo's performance is misplaced.
The supply to their talisman was not what it might have been, with Germany's midfield unit (and especially Ronaldo's resurgent clubmate Sami Khedira) playing outstanding football. Given that he still worked Manuel Neuer on a few occasions, there is something to build on.
Even Iran's mind-numbing goalless draw with Nigeria helped to put things into perspective. Four years ago, Ronaldo was largely an unhappy and isolated presence on the pitch, starved of support by Carlos Queiroz’s excessively negative tactics.
Whatever the difficulties experienced on a trying afternoon, the Paulo Bento reign is far preferable to that of his predecessor.
There is precedent for hope. After the opening match defeat in Euro 2012, also to Germany, victory against Denmark (even without Ronaldo fully firing) led to a Ronaldo-led lift-off against the Netherlands and an eventual semi-final.
Manager Paulo Bento, who has done so much to bring the best out of Ronaldo at the international level, will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. He described the prospect of making wholesale changes as "the worst mistake we could make" in his post-match press conference.
Instead, Bento, Ronaldo and company will plug back into the positivity that has surrounded the squad since their arrival.
That process will begin with Wednesday’s second open training session at the Estadio Moises Lucarelli, the home of Ponte Preta. The team (and especially their captain, of course) were received as heroes in their first practice there and will be again.
The mood has followed Portugal. When Ronaldo entered the field at the Arena Fonte Nova to warm up, it was clear that the locals' focus was solely on him.
The noise as he came on some 40 minutes before kick-off was almost equal to that of any of the subsequent German goals. It continued the welcome that Portugal's captain has experienced everywhere since arriving in Brazil last week.
Despite the setback in Salvador, it is this warmth that will lift Ronaldo and Portugal to go again as they prepare for a crunch match against the United States in the heat of Manaus. Before the Germany match, the captain made a point of thanking Brazilians for their welcome.
Everywhere Portugal have gone, they have been cheered on with fervour.
As Luiz Felipe Scolari prepared for the host nation's second game against Mexico, he too had words of encouragement for his former charges.
"I should like to remind Portugal and my Portuguese friends that at Euro 2004," he said (per FIFA.com), "when I was coach, we lost our opening group game and then won the others to qualify for the second phase. Portugal have the team to come through."
Many of the locals following the action agree with the sentiment. The task may have become more complicated, but any hangover from Monday's loss will be quickly forgotten when Portugal see another Campinas welcome on Wednesday morning.
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