FOXBOROUGH — Across the Atlantic Ocean, under insistent rain and gray sky, 11 days before he’s supposed to be the best player at the world’s biggest tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo was absent.
While his Portuguese teammates were training at Gillette Stadium Thursday — clad in teal tops and bright cleats, juggling, passing, and stretching — Ronaldo, the recipient of this year’s Ballon d’Or as the world’s best footballer, was somewhere else, sidelined by left-leg injuries.
A day before Portugal and Mexico meet in a pre-World Cup friendly at Gillette, the Portuguese Football Federation announced Ronaldo will miss the match because of tendinitis and a muscle injury to his left leg. It was unknown if he traveled with the team.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss at full length the situation,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said in a prepractice press conference, his eyes serious and words animated. “We have to move forward.”
Ronaldo, 29, has been battling injuries since the end of the club season, when he scored 31 goals for Real Madrid in Spain’s La Liga and 50 across all competitions en route to leading the team to the Champions League title. The Federation also announced that defender Pepe and midfielder Raúl Meireles will miss the match.
“Portugal’s a very tough team,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. “The absence of Ronaldo and Pepe are tough blows.”
Portugal, in the United States’s group at the World Cup, opens the tournament June 16 against Germany, and plays the US June 22.
Bento was predictably elusive when asked if he expects Ronaldo to play at the World Cup.
“The situation is evolving,” he said. “In reality Ronaldo is not the only good player we have . . . I’m unable to change the prognosis. I’m unable to change what we expect. When he’s ready to play is a decision that’s going to be made the same way it’s always been made.”
Ronaldo’s absence from the tournament, which begins June 12, would be akin to Tom Brady missing the NFL playoffs — the difference between an early-round exit or deep run.
It would also make Group G, or the “Group of Death” — composed of Portugal, Germany, Ghana, and the US — significantly less deadly.
This is all speculative, of course. Ronaldo’s ailments may be nothing more than an annoyance. Bento could simply be using extreme caution to prevent his best player from aggravating the leg, ensuring he’s 100 percent fit in 11 days. Or he could merely be allowing Ronaldo to recuperate from a long, taxing club season. (Real Madrid won the Champions League May 24, one week after La Liga ended, and Ronaldo started all 46 matches the team played, logging more than 4,000 minutes since August.)
It could be strategic, too: Bento could be using the injury to lure World Cup teams into thinking that they won’t have to prepare for Ronaldo’s otherworldly speed and skill. At Gillette, in the Land of Belichick, that type of deception isn’t uncommon.
Friday’s game will live on without Ronaldo. The friendly, which will kick off at 8:30 p.m., is Mexico’s last game before it opens the World Cup against Cameroon June 13. Portugal will play once more before traveling to Brazil.
The Mexicans lost their last friendly to Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1-0, Wednesday in Chicago. It was El Tri’s first loss under Herrera, and the team was listless and lacked cohesion.
“They are a very good team technically,” Bento said of Mexico. “They’ve got a bright future in front of them. [Javier] “Chicharito’’ [Hernandez] is a very, very dangerous player in the box. It’s going to be a very interesting match to watch.”
Herrera, appointed in October, was the fourth coach hired within the span of one month after ugly results and performances that had Mexico at the brink of failing to qualify for the World Cup. He made the most of his time at Gillette, posing for a picture with Brady and joking with reporters at the press conference.
He said that he was unworried about Wednesday’s result.
“We did lose a game against a great team,” he said. “It helped us a lot. It helped us find some of our difficulties . . . It was clear for us who can be able to start for us. It was a great, great tuneup. It showed us a lot of similarities to Croatia,” which Mexico will play June 23 in its last group-stage game at the World Cup.
Portugal will use Friday’s friendly similarly, Bento said.
“This game is preparation — the same way our game against Greece [was],” he said, referring to the team’s last friendly. “We’re always looking for different solutions every time we take the field. This particular game we can have such opportunity. Our style of play is something that we’re constantly working on and having these games is an opportunity to continue working on that.”