Read any of the hundreds of articles on who stands what sort of chance in the World Cup, and when you get to the section on Portugal, you will see three words time and time again: The Ronaldo Factor. The logic goes something like this: Portugal are a good, but not great, team, they should get through the group stage OK, and the magic of Ronaldo could just help them get further in the competition than they otherwise would.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but it places all the weight on one man’s shoulders. But there could be another Ronaldo Factor at play, and it is one that will galvanise the entire team. To understand it, we need to look briefly at another World Cup in another sport.
They’ll want to do it for Cristiano
In 2011, India beat Sri Lanka to win the cricket World Cup in front of 45,000 adoring fans at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Of course, the team were jubilant, but in post-match interviews, every player said the same thing: “We wanted to win it for Sachin.”
Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the best batsman ever, was by this time 38. It was to be his last World Cup, and about the only thing he hadn’t won. In the final itself, his contribution was minimal, opening the batting and being caught behind for 18, but that wasn’t the point. Over the past 20 years, he’d been India’s talisman, their greatest player, and this was their gift to him. It was not MS Dhoni, the man who scored the winning runs, but Tendulkar, who was carried on the shoulders of his teammates on a lap of honour around the stadium.
Perhaps it is this kind of Ronaldo Factor that can make the biggest difference to Portugal’s World Cup prospects in Russia.
The route to the final
Getting through the group stages is one thing, but Portugal can make a big difference to their chances of ultimate victory by not just qualifying but by winning Group B. Here’s why. If they finish second in the group, they will face likely Group A winner Uruguay, and set up a potential quarter-final against France. If they win their group, they will most likely get an easier last-16 tie against Russia, to set up a mouth-watering encounter against Argentina.
Messi versus Ronaldo is something the world would love to see, but to win the group, they need to beat Spain on June 15. The Portugal v Spain betting odds are around 7/2 for a Portugal win, with Spain the slight odds-on favourites. Of course, this game is already being seen as the biggest matchup of the group, but there could be even more resting on it than local rivalry.
One thing is certain, the press is right to be talking non-stop about the Ronaldo Effect when it comes to Portugal’s World Cup hopes. The real question, though, is exactly what shape that effect is likely to take.