World Cup 2010: the key players

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal have the misfortune to be in the toughest group of all in the World Cup finals.   While North Korea ought to be no barrier to their progress into the second stage, their place in the round of 16 will have to be obtained at the expense of either Brazil or the Ivory Coast, the nation of Didier Drogba, who will have Sven Goran Eriksson at the helm.

Yet in Cristiano Ronaldo they have one player whose absence would certainly be to the detriment of the later stages in South Africa.

There were plenty of Manchester United supporters who would not have been disappointed to see Ronaldo's star on the wane after his £80 million transfer to Real Madrid last summer.

But he has transferred his prodigious talents from the red of United to the white of Madrid without even a hint of a stumble. He set a club record when he scored in his first four appearances in La Liga and chalked off another personal ambition only last week when he scored his first hat-trick for the club against Mallorca.

The goals raised his tally for the season in the Spanish championship to 25, an impressive total although six fewer than Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Under manager Carlos Queiroz, Portugal have developed as a side with the potential to be a major force.  As well as Ronaldo, players such as his former Manchester United teammate Nani, Ricardo Quaresma of Inter Milan, the highly experienced Simão and Tiago from Atlético Madrid and several former members of Jose Mourinho's Porto team, such as Carvalho, Ferreira and Deco at Chelsea and Maniche at Koln, and Pedro Mendes at Sporting CP, could pose a significant threat.

The group stages will be a real test of their credentials, however, and the meeting with Brazil in Durban on June 25 promises to be a must-see match.

Ronaldo's career from his joining CD Nacional, through his rejection by Liverpool as a 16-year-old to his success with Manchester United is documented by the journalist Tom Oldfield in a 2008 biography Cristiano Ronaldo: The £80 Million Man.

Oldfield has a biography of the Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal due out in paperback later this month.



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