Miguel Veloso

At halftime: Dauda denying Ronaldo, but own goal mars Ghana’s half — FOLLOW LIVE

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It’s been a 1v1 drill between Cristiano Ronaldo and Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda, and the latter is keeping the Black Stars alive. Otherwise, the story is a bevy of borderline-dirty tackles between the two sides, as Ghana’s abiding by the “Hurt Ronaldo” philosophy.

The Black Stars have never won a World Cup match in which they’ve conceded the game’s first goal, which they’ve done. As it stands, the US would have to fall 5-0 to not advance to the knockout round.

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Goals:

30′ – Well, this is what it was going to take to beat Dauda. Veloso’s cross was put into the net on a poor clearance from John Boye (not the one from The Waltons), who was colliding with Joao Moutinho.

Other key moments:

6′ – Cristiano Ronaldo stings a cross/shot off the crossbar in our first sign of anything other than nerves from other side. CRON wearing his third different hairstyle of the tourney. Thanks, Irina.

12′ – Ronaldo bends a hard free kick toward the right post that Dauda pushes out for a corner. Corner brings nothing.

19′ – Point-blank header for Ronaldo from the six, but he hits it right at Dauda. The keeper can barely keep it off the line, but the save is made. One they needed from one of the world’s best.

24′ – Corner to Ghana, and it turns into a total of three. Wasted chances from the Black Stars.

39′ – Atsu cuts in from the right, but his curling shot isn’t there.

43′ – Oh! Ghana right to feel aggrieved as Bruno Alves pulls down his mark in the box. Could’ve been a penalty from the right vantage point.

Lineups

Portugal: Beto, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Miguel Veloso, William Carvalho, Ronaldo (c), Moutinho, Eder, Nani, Amorim, Pereira

Ghana: Dauda, Gyan (c), Atsu, Agyemang Badu, A. Ayew, Rabiu, Waris, Mensah, Asamoah, Boye, Afful

Key Players:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal – Honestly, there might as well be no one else out there. He’s the biggest threat for either team, and it’s scary to think how Portugal’s tournament would’ve gone had he been 100 percent (assuming he isn’t).
  • Fatau Dauda, Ghana — Can this keeper possibly still be plying his trade for Orlando Pirates of South Africa when this is over? The 29-year-old is denying Ronaldo all over the place (when his crossbar isn’t).

Question for the second half:

  • Will Ghana’s need to attack help Ronaldo find more goals? – Ghana needs a ‘W’ while Portugal needs a lot more goals. Will the Black Stars pushing forward cripple their chances to contain Portugal’s No. 7?

Portugal hoping Ronaldo is ready to start against U.S.

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Portugal’s first match gave the U.S. plenty to be hopeful about. Pepe was sent off before halftime after headbutting Thomas Müller and Müller went on to score a hat-trick for a 4-0 Germany win. But one of the most encouraging signs for the USMNT was just how out of sorts star player Cristiano Ronaldo looked.

Ronaldo, the World Player of the Year, scored 31 goals in 31 La Liga games for Real Madrid last season. However, during the final weeks of the season, he was hampered by a knee injury, one he carried with him to Brazil. The injury left the player struggling and ineffective against a rampant Germany side.

There’s been plenty of news swirling about regarding the superstar’s condition, with Portugal even having to deny reports that Ronaldo’s doctor advised him to drop out of the World Cup. But although the team has yet to release anything official on Ronaldo’s status for Sunday’s match, they are still hopeful that he will start.

Teammate Miguel Veloso sounds optimistic, saying, “I’m not a doctor but, from what I see, Ronaldo is fine. He is training, he is jumping and he is shooting. There is not much else to say.”

Jürgen Klinsmann remains wary of Ronaldo’s threat. The USMNT coach said, “Now [Portugal] are going to come into Manaus pretty angry and I don’t know how Ronaldo is going to perform when he is angry. We need to show Portugal how good we are.”

It sounds as though Klinsmann is preparing his side to face a fully-fit Ronaldo, meaning that the U.S. is unlikely to show signs of complacency. That’s good news for fans of the USMNT, as with a win on Sunday, they’ll almost certainly be through to the knockout stages – either a win or draw for Germany against Ghana on Saturday will assure that status.

Ronaldo: Portugal’s chances still ’50/50′ after Friday win

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The scoreline favors Portugal, the Seleccao using Cristiano Ronaldo’s late header to claim a 1-0 lead on Sweden, but for some, that one-goal, first leg result amounts to holding serve – the minimum margin a team should take from the home leg of their World Cup playoff. Though Paulo Bento’s team have the added benefit of having kept a clean sheet (denying Sweden a crucial away goal), right now, they’re still shooting par.

That’s the theory Ronaldo seemed to embrace after today’s result.

“[I]t’s not done yet,” the Seleccao captain told Portuguese radio shortly after scoring his 44th international gaol. “It remains 50/50 chances for both teams, in my opinion.”

[MORE Portugal 1, Sweden 0: Cristiano Ronaldo wins battle of titans (that wasn’t)]

Ronaldo meet Sweden left back Martin Olson to Miguel Veloso’s 82nd minute cross, heading home the only goal in Lisbon. Portugal had also generated close chances through João Moutinho (fifth minute) and Helder Postiga (50th), but for much of Friday’s match, a well-organized Sweden seemed capable of returning home with a 0-0, having held their hosts to three shots on goal.

After pulling out a slim win, Bento agreed with his star attacker, calling the victory “an important step to reach the World Cup but not yet decisive.”

“We created a great early chance and Sweden hit back,” Bento told reporters post-match. “But in the second half it was one way for us.”

One way may an understatement. At halftime, each team had taken six shots, but by the end of the match, Portugal had a 19-6 edge, having held 68 percent of the match’s possession.

“We managed to counter Sweden’s direct football,” Bento said. “I don’t think their football will change much in their home leg, maybe perhaps press a bit higher.”

Sweden will certainly have to open up next Tuesday, with Erik Hamrén’s team only putting two shots on Rui Patricio. After the game, the Sweden boss hinted his team may have been playing for a clean sheet.

“We would have been very happy with a draw,” Hamrén said. “We played a good game defensively, the goal was unnecessary, we were careless with that cross.”

The playoff resumes next Tuesday at Friend Field in Solna, with Portugal looking to qualify for their fourth straight World Cup.

Portugal 1, Sweden 0: Cristiano Ronaldo wins battle of titans (that wasn’t)

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It was the clash of global titans that wasn’t, with both Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic held quiet for much of today’s match in Lisbon. Yet after an often tenacious, largely frustrating day, Ronaldo had the last and only laugh, his 82nd minute header giving Portugal a 1-0 lead after leg one of the teams’ World Cup 2014 qualifying playoff.

The two teams will meet again on Tuesday in Sweden, their playoffs’ second leg set to determine which nation claims one of Europe’s final four spots at Brazil 2014. The Swedes need only overturn a one-goal deficit to return to a tournament they missed in 2010, yet if Portugal scores in Solna, the Selecçao will hold an away goals tiebreaker that could prove crucial to qualifying for a fourth straight World Cup.

Coming into the match, all attention had been focused on the battle between Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, perhaps leaving many shocked when 44 other players deigned to show up in Lisbon. Though many may have thought a game of one-on-one was schedule, 20 other starters were picked to join to two icons, forcing narratives to give way to an actual game of soccer. With a World Cup spot was on the line, its remarkable the actual teams didn’t get more coverage ahead of today’s match.

Either predictably (or, paradoxically, depending on your level of cynicism), the match never came close to matching the mano a mano, battle of the titans hype it generated before kickoff. Instead, a home team pressing to make the most of their home leg were almost contained by a well-organized, sometimes dangerous visitor, one who can take comfort in having kept the match within reach after leg one. Though Sweden never found the away goal they threatened to take in the first half, they leave Portugal was a manageable deficit, their adversary’s 1-0 home win akin to holding serve.

Portugal were the aggressors over the first 45 minutes, even if Sweden would end up with the first half’s best chances. The Seleccao’s control of possession only produced one shot on goal – a weak header from Helder Postiga shortly before halftime. Sweden, on the other hand, saw strong play down their flanks produce close calls from Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Larsson, and Kim Källström. The hosts’ best chance was a Joãõ Moutinho shot in the fourth minute that couldn’t manage a sharp angle into a vacated goal.

The second half started with another early chance for Portugal, though a chip over the Swedish defense saw another empty goal missed when Postiga’s shot was inadvertently blocked by Pepe. The Portuguese defender had come forward to knock down a ball vaulted over the Swedish defense, with Pepe heading down to the right of goal. Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson tried to pounce on the bouncing ball only to see Postiga poke it out of his reach. The Portugal striker then saw a hurried shot toward the open goal only hit his teammate, who was standing near the right post.

source: Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) was held to one shot on target as Portugal held 68 percent of the ball in Friday’s first leg. (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.)

It was the beginning of a one-sided half, the early close call potentially convincing Sweden to hold out earlier than they may have liked. For the next half hour, Erik Hamrén’s team stay deep and compact, forcing Portugal to do something special to beat them.

That moment came in the 82nd minute, with Miguel Veloso’s run out of central midfield and beating Larsson to put in a far post cross. That’s where Ronaldo out-muscled left back Martin Olsson, giving Portugal the lead they needed ahead of Tuesday’s leg in Sweden.

Despite Ronaldo’s winner, the match was less about two titans than it was two teams. Portugal’s desire to leverage their home leg was evident from the opening moments, even if determined play from their visitors nearly keeping them off the scoreboard. And while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was influential in two of Sweden’s first half close calls, he was left out of the game by a team that only held 32 percent of the ball.

Perhaps leg two can be the showdown so many people want. More likely, it will be a battle between two teams, one of whom will miss next year’s World Cup.

Lineups

Portugal: Rui Patricio; João Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrão; Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho; Nani, Héldeer Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo

Sweden: Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig, Per Nilsson, Mikael Antonsson, Martin Olsson; Sebastian Larsson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Källström, Alexander Kacaniklic; Johan Elmander, Zlatan Ibrahimovic