Against Germany the team looked inexplicably sluggish and a mysterious outbreak of muscle injuries began to take its toll, hitting Fábio Coentrão (who returned home), Rui Patrício and Hugo Almeida. Subsequently, Bruno Alves, André Almeida and Hélder Postiga all succumbed. There have been various theories as to why these top professional players should be dropping like flies. Some have blamed a lack of adequate acclimatisation ahead of the intense heat and humidity of Salvador and Manaus; training camps have been in Óbidos, near Lisbon, the east coast of the US and Campinas in São Paulo, all temperate climates. Others have suggested that at least some of these players were already carrying injuries or prone to them.
The injury that has most affected the team's productivity, though, has been the tendonitis that Cristiano Ronaldo has been nursing. "I'd like to be 110 per cent fit but I'm 100 per cent," he said before Germany. This was blatantly not the case, and such is Portugal's reliance on him that his difficulties have removed a whole dimension from their play.
After the 2-2 draw with the US – in which Portugal looked better than their first match but were still horribly limited – Ronaldo admitted that he never believed they could be champions: "Maybe the other teams are better than us, and maybe they deserve more than us," he said. There is the realisation that they will need a minor miracle to get out of the group. That almost came about in the last couple of days, with Ghana's players threatening a no-show in protest at withheld bonuses. The dispute appears to have been settled, but there may be some residual bad feeling internally that could affect Ghana's performance.
At least that is what Portugal will be hoping, as they will be hoping for a sizeable German victory over the US (and not a colluded draw). The possibility of Portugal reversing the five-goal deficit vis-à-vis the US across the two matches is desperately remote, especially if the team cannot substantially raise their game. But as the Portuguese proverb goes: "A esperança é a última a morrer." (Hope is the last thing to die.) Phil Town