(photo credit: reuters)
The Portugal national team, including superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, is scheduled
to arrive in Israel on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s crucial 2014 World Cup
qualifier versus the blue-and-white at National Stadium in Ramat
Israel currently sits in second place in Group F, leading Portugal
on goal difference after four qualifiers.
Portugal only managed a 1-1
draw at home against Northern Ireland in its most recent qualifier in October,
losing 1-0 at group leader Russia in its previous match four days
Besides Ronaldo – who has scored 50 goals in 60 matches in all
competitions this season for Real Madrid and Portugal – coach Paulo Bento’s
squad includes the likes of Madrid stars Fabio Coentrao and Pepe, as well as
Raul Meireles, Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida.
However, Portugal will be
without Manchester United winger Nani after he picked up a hamstring injury in
last Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea.
Bento handed a debut call-up
last week to 27-year old Wolfsburg winger Vieirinha in a 23-man squad that will
also play against Azerbaijan in Baku four days after facing Israel in Ramat
Bento brushed aside concerns about the physical condition of captain
Ronaldo when asked if he was concerned about reports the forward had a sugar low
during Real Madrid’s 2-1 win against Celta Vigo last Sunday.
“I guess I
can ask the national squad doctor to bring along some extra sugar packages,” the
good-humored coach told reporters. “But I am not worried. He is in a good moment
and we hope he will help us get to our goal.”
Portugal is in dire need of
its captain’s heroics as it lags third in the group, five points adrift of group
Ronaldo netted the goal that sent Real Madrid through to
the last eight of the Champions League against Manchester United and grabbed a
double at Celta Vigo before finding the back of the net against RCD Mallorca
this past Saturday to take his league tally for the season to 27 goals in 27
Portugal has failed to win its last four matches. In the last,
Bento’s side succumbed to a painful 3-2 defeat in a friendly against Ecuador in
Guimaraes in February.
“We cannot get caught up on the past and what
happened in the last four matches. This Israel match is an important one
although getting to first place in the group no longer depends solely on us,”
Besides Nani, Portugal could also be without Porto midfielder
Joao Moutinho, who has struggled with an injury since his team’s defeat to
Malaga in the Champions League last week.
“It’s an honor to play against
a player of the level of Cristiano Ronaldo, but after the first whistle you no
longer think of who you are facing but of the result you want to achieve,” said
Israel striker Itay Shechter.
“The coaching staff is preparing us for a
war. We will give our heart and soul and perhaps luck will also be on our side
this time.”Reuters contributed to this report.