Some of us have been quietly rooting for Portugal to make the World Cup because we want the world's best players to be at South Africa 2010. Just as we were pulling for Lionel Messi and Argentina, despite the Argentines being coached by that loutish boor (yes, that's redundant, but he's worthy of it) Diego Maradona.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, current Fifa player of the year. Messi, previous player of the year. Just nice to have them around, let them do their thing, on the biggest of stages. While in their prime.
Ronaldo, however, will not be in South Africa -- unless his Portuguese teammates get him there.
Ronaldo has been ruled out of the home-and-home playoff between Portugal and a very solid Bosnia-Herzegovina side. This is one of the four second-place playoffs going on among European teams, and will generate four World Cup participants.
Not having CR9 can't help Portugal's chances. Portugal isn't a one-man team, but the current squad isn't widely considered to be the equal of the Golden Generation that came through about a decade ago, the one led by Luis Figo that won a Euro Cup.
But, there's nothing to be done about it. Ronaldo has had a bad ankle for more than a month now, and he aggravated it in a Portugal match back on Oct. 10, and it hasn't gotten better -- despite the best efforts of his club team, Real Madrid.
Earlier, it seemed as if this might be one off those club-vs.-country things, but it now seems fairly clear Ronaldo just can't play. Unless this represents an absolute cave-in by Portugal and coach Carlos Quieroz.
Portugal rallied sharply to finish second in its European group, and perhaps that momentum can take it past Bosnia.
The Portuguese talent cupboard isn't bare. Quieroz still can call on the likes of Simao, naturalized Brazilians attackers Deco and Liedson, and Duda and Bosingwa. And Nani, the 22-year-old from Cape Verde, probably will take over on the right wing for Ronaldo ... and Nani is good enough to play for Manchester United.
Still, you'd prefer to have the player of the year lining up for you with the World Cup on the line, but Portugal won't have that luxury Saturday, in Lisboa, and Nov. 18 in BH.