One-Man Band: How Far Can Christiano Ronaldo Take Portugal?
It’s hard to have a better year than the one Christiano Ronaldo is having. For starters, though it had to do with his performance in 2013, in January he received the Ballon d’Or (award given to the best footballer in the world), making it the second time he’s received the prestigious award (2008).
He also netted an outstanding 31 La Liga goals for Real Madrid this season, and locked up another piece of hardware in the "European Golden Shoe" (his third), given to the top goal scorer in Europe, which he shared with Liverpool’s Luis Suárez.
But the fun didn’t stop there for Ronnie and “Los Blancos”, as he led the team to a Champions League title, netting a tournament record 17 goals in the process.
Internationally he was stunning as well, scoring eight goals in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying process which included all four goals in the two qualifying playoff games against Sweden which clinched their World Cup berth. Then, in a friendly against Cameroon in March, he found the back of the net twice and in doing so became the countries all time leading scorer with 49 goals.
Outside of the game, Forbes ranked him as the highest paid player in the world, Time Magazine listed him among their top 100 most influential people, and oh yeah, he got to grace the cover of “Vogue” with his supermodel girlfriend Irina Shayk, where he surprisingly (alright, maybe it’s not that surprising) appeared wearing less clothing than his girlfriend.
Quite the year so far, right? I’d say short of winning the La Liga title, he accomplished just about everything a professional footballer - and perhaps any guy - could dream of.
Almost. There is that matter of a pesky World Cup.
And let’s face it, world renowned players like Ronaldo, despite their exploits on the club level, will always be judged (fairly or unfairly) by what they do on the world’s largest stage. This applies to Ronaldo perhaps more than any other player due to the country he plays for.
Yes, Pepe and Fábio Coentrão (who are also teammates at Real Madrid) are excellent defenders, and Nani wouldn’t find himself employed by arguably the biggest club in the world in Manchester United if he wasn’t talented, but when it comes to scoring goals it’s hard to see how anyone but “CR7” is going to provide them on a consistent basis. Which is why many an eyebrow were raised (mine included) when Portugal - a team so predicated on the success of one individual - was ranked third on FIFA’s pre-World Cup rankings behind Spain and Germany.
This then of course beg’s the question: how far can Ronaldo take them?
We’ve seen examples in sports of individual players shifting into beast mode where they seemingly carried their teams at times, and certainly Ronaldo was that guy for Portugal in the qualifying stages, but could he do it game after game in the World Cup? The answer, quite simply, is no. Well, okay, probably not.
Our nERD ranking of 2.26 for Portugal, which measures overall team efficiency as an estimate of how many goals the team will score against an average international team, gives them a ranking of 17 out of the 32 teams. That's a far cry from the number three ranking FIFA gave them.
However, the ranking also gives them a 47.55% chance of advancing to the round of 16. Which, behind Germany’s 91.13%, gives them the second-highest rate out of Group G. Likely finishing behind the Germans means their hopes in advancing hinge on their ability to handle the United States (19) and Ghana (22).
The Portugal party bus appears to stop there, though, with their odds of reaching the quarterfinals dropping significantly all the way down to 23.64%. That gives them the 14th-highest rate out of the remaining 16 teams.
So, sad though it may be, it appears the best player in the world’s appearance in the World Cup will be short-lived. Enjoy it while it lasts.