Ronaldo and Portugal set to land in Israel

Pivotal World Cup qualifier coming up on Friday for blue-and-white against accomplished foe.

Cristiano Ronaldo (photo credit: reuters)
Cristiano Ronaldo
(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 Gan.
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 earlier.
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 Gan.
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 leader Russia.
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 matches.
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,” said Bento.
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.