At first glance, a mandatory dress code appeared to have been imposed Tuesday at the final pre-World Cup friendly for the 32 teams. Second glance, too.
Supporters of Portugal blanketed MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, across the river from New York City, and the choice of apparel for the majority was a Cristiano Ronaldo jersey.
The forward had been shelved since May 24 with left knee and thigh injuries, and what was a curious bit of scheduling -- Portugal’s last Cup tuneup only six days before its opener in Brazil against mighty Germany -- became a blessing. Ronaldo had just been cleared medically, allowing him to test his fitness and rediscover his stratospheric skill level against nonqualifier Ireland.
Those No. 7s in the stands were worn by a jury of thousands, judging whether Ronaldo had recovered sufficiently. It was unclear to the masses whether he would even play until his name was the 11th announced in the lineup, over the P.A. system, triggering the first of many Ronaldo-related roars.
Earlier on, he was an attack dog, blasting a shot seconds into the match. In the 13th minute, a harsh tackle left him prone on the ground, prompting boos toward the typically roughneckish Irish. Hearts pounded inside the No. 7 jerseys until he popped up, then another rocket on goal restored pulse rates to normal. His subsequent free kick dented the post.
Mostly, Ronaldo worked on his telepathic passing, setting the table for one score with a feed. His presence and play inspired Portugal in a 5-1 schooling.
When Ronaldo was lifted in the 66th minute, much later than his red-shirted congregation anticipated, he pivoted near midfield and saluted them by clapping. So, everyone wearing No. 7 was applauding, in between exhales of relief.
Verdict: Guilty, meaning Ronaldo is back to being a guilty pleasure.