Ronaldo’s return boosts Portugal just in time for World Cup

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There was some hesitation, there were some tentative movements and there was a brief injury scare on Tuesday, but for the first time in over two weeks, Cristiano Ronaldo played in a competitive match on Tuesday.

In a run-up to a World Cup in which star players being ruled out due to injury have become daily headlines, Portugal welcomed back the Ballon d’Or winner in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Ireland at MetLife Stadium.

He started and went 65 minutes in his return from lingering issues with tendinosis around his knee and a separate, mysterious thigh injury, playing a key role in two of Portugal’s goals. Ronaldo’s return to the pitch eases what was a growing concern that he might join the laundry list of injured stars — from Colombia’s Radamel Falcao, to France’s Franck Ribery and the Netherlands’ Rafael van der Vaart — as those missing out on the World Cup, but Ronaldo looked fit on Tuesday.

But Ronaldo is healthy enough — even if not 100 percent — and so too are midfielder Raul Meirelles and defender Pepe. Both were also struggling with injuries, but Meirelles looked sharp in his 65 minutes on the pitch, and Pepe closed out the match.

“Physically, all of the players are fit to play, so there are no concerns whatsoever,” coach Paulo Bento said postgame.

Thirteen minutes into Tuesday’s match, Bento’s decision to start Ronaldo looked like it could be disastrous. The captain was tackled 35 yards from goal and went down grabbing that troublesome left knee, which had a band wrapped around it. Ronaldo shook it off, though, and continued on to create some dangerous combinations on the left wing with fullback Fábio Coentrão.

“I think it’s great for the team,” Portugal midfielder Nani, who had two assists on Tuesday, said of Ronaldo’s return. “It showed tonight – he’s good, he’s well, he can help the team. I think in the first game he will be 100 percent, too.”

The hesitance from Ronaldo was clear at times as he pulled out of some tackles and looked slower than usual on the ball. He warmed up cautiously, too, taking it easy in the small-sided game during warmups and he looked like someone who was cautious to not over-exerting himself shooting.

What was abundantly obvious, though, is that Ronaldo at any percentage of health is a major positive for Portugal, who looked flat and uninspiring against Mexico on Friday without their captain.

On Tuesday, his cheeky backheel to Coentrão led to Portugal’s second goal, and Ronaldo’s header that was initially saved was then finished by Hugo Almeida for Portugal’s third goal. One of Ronaldo’s signature free kicks smacked the post in the 19th minute, and he had several surging diagonal runs in which he cut in from the left flank to have a dangerous opportunity on goal.

But exactly how the superstar feels continues to remain a mystery. Ronaldo didn’t talk to the press after emerging from the locker room over two hours after the final whistle.

The message from his coach and teammates, though — as vague and guarded as it may be — is that Ronaldo is healthy enough to not only play, but make an impact. That’s the best news Portugal can get as they open up Group G play against heavyweights Germany on Monday.

“He had a good match. Considering he hadn’t played competitively for a few weeks, I thought he did well,” Bento said. “Players like Ronaldo are definitely important for any team they play for. It’s good for us. We are delighted.”

Everton’s John Stones out of England squad with injury

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: John Stones of Everton clears during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on September 12, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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John Stones has been ruled out of England’s upcoming EURO qualifiers after suffering a knee injury while playing for Everton.

The 21-year-old center-back has missed Everton’s last two Premier League matches, and was unable to recover in time for England’s qualifiers this weekend.

Manager Roy Hodgson has called in Tottenham’s Andros Townsend and Kyle Walker as replacements for the absent Stones.

[ REPORTS: Klopp, Liverpool making quick progress ]

England has already qualified for EURO 2016 with a perfect record in Group E, winning all eight of their matches. With upcoming games against Estonia and Lithuania, Hodgson has said he will experiment a bit with some new players, which lessens the impact of Stones’ injury.

Despite the match being meaningless in terms of a result, players will still be eager to impress the manager in an effort to lock up a spot on the final roster for the tournament in June.

Manchester United’s Luke Shaw is out for an extended period of time after breaking his leg in the Champions League, while Everton’s Leighton Baines hasn’t played since August after undergoing ankle surgery.

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Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand has been recalled to the side, and said he will try to grab the left-back position “by the scruff of the neck.”

Liverpool’s Danny Ings was given his first call-up and Swansea City’s Jonjo Shelvey returns to the fold, although both players missed training with injuries and their status moving forward is uncertain.

Landon Donovan: Klinsmann should be fired if USMNT loses to Mexico

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on before playing Peru during an international friendly at RFK Stadium on September 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Landon Donovan and Jurgen Klinsmann haven’t had the rosiest of relationships.

Since being left off of the 2014 World Cup roster and retiring from the game, Donovan has often been critical of Klinsmann and his tenure with the USMNT.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Ahead of Saturday’s CONCACAF playoff match against Mexico, Donovan said he believes Klinsmann should be fired if the United States loses.

Speaking to ESPN FC:

Around the world, if a player plays poorly and a player has a bad string of results, they get dropped from the team.

Jurgen said many times he wants our players to feel pressure — so if they lose a game they can’t go to the grocery store the next day. If they lose a game, they are getting hammered in the press.

Well, the same holds true for the coach, and so we had a very poor summer with bad results in the Gold Cup. The last game against Brazil was probably the worst game I’ve seen them play under Jurgen.

The reality is that now, anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they’d be fired.

I think if Jurgen wants to hold all the players to that standard, then he has to be held to that standard too.

Heading into the Gold Cup this summer on the heels of some great wins over the Netherlands and Germany, the United States’ performance was wildly disappointing, losing in the semifinals to Jamaica and finishing in fourth place.

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President of U.S. Soccer Sunil Gulati has shown great faith in Klinsmann, giving him a contract until 2018 as both manager and technical director of the program. However, pressure has been building after a string of poor results.

For Klinsmann, this is arguably his biggest match in charge of the USMNT. Not only does it have implications for the Confederations Cup in 2017, but it is also against Mexico, which always puts added pressure on a manager. If the U.S. loses, more people than Donovan will be calling for a change.