SARANSK • Cristiano Ronaldo has scored all four of Portugal's goals in the World Cup so far and the European champions will be heavily dependent on him to see them through against a stoic Iran in their final Group B match today.
"Our expectation is to continue our work and try to improve in the group phase," Ronaldo said after his early strike over Morocco left Portugal level on four points with Spain at the top of the group.
"We're almost there (knockout stages) and then we'll see."
The 33-year-old forward will also look to fire his side into the last 16 at the expense of former Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who is now in charge of the Iranians.
Ronaldo and Queiroz are both appearing at their fourth World Cup, and their relationship dates back to the Portugal captain's arrival at Manchester United in 2003.
The 65-year-old served as Alex Ferguson's assistant over two spells either side of a brief stint in charge of Real Madrid, the club Ronaldo joined in 2009 in a deal Queiroz helped facilitate.
GROUP B PERMUTATIONS
Iran v Portugal: Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222, tomorrow, 2am
Spain v Morocco: Ch142 & Ch223, tomorrow, 2am
Need a point to qualify. If they lose, they can still go through if Portugal suffer a heavier defeat, or if Iran v Portugal is a low-scoring draw and Spain do not lose by more than one goal.
Also need just a point to qualify, but can also make the last 16 with a defeat if Spain lose by a bigger margin.
Must beat Portugal to qualify. To top the group, they must hope Spain lose.
But their relationship soured following a second-round exit at the hands of Spain at the 2010 World Cup, after which Ronaldo suggested Queiroz was to blame for the defeat.
Portugal then crashed out in the group stage four years ago in Brazil, but Ronaldo is single-handedly leading their quest in Russia so far.
His individual brilliance has also glossed over Portugal's dour performances in their first two matches and Fernando Santos' side have mostly appeared like a one-man team. In 26 competitive matches since Santos took over in September 2014, Portugal have won 20 and lost twice.
Of those 20 wins, 10 have been by a single goal and most of the others were against weaker opponents.
But Santos knows that Ronaldo can be a game changer, comparing his talisman to a bottle of "Port wine", marvelling at his ability to refine his game with age.
"He's evolving constantly. Unlike regular players, he's always evolving," said the Portugal coach.
Portugal need a draw to be sure of a place in the knockout phase, with either hosts Russia or Uruguay awaiting them in the next round should they advance.
Iran, who beat Morocco 1-0 before falling to Spain by the same scoreline, must beat Portugal to reach the latter stages of the World Cup for the first time.
Queiroz, who also took South Africa to the 2002 Finals, called it "the most interesting and important match in my seven years with Iran".
"We will keep on working for our dreams, and our dream is to try and qualify for the second round," he said.
"We know it will be difficult, but as I said before we came here, we didn't expect easy things.
"When we arrived, no one gave us a chance, but we still fight for our dreams. Against Portugal, it will be match point for us."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS