Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Cristiano Ronaldo gets traditional Maori welcome in Belfast as Portugal arrive for World Cup clash

Portugal's Crstiano Ronaldo arrives with his team at Belfast International Airport ahead of the World Cup Qualifier against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo arrives with his team at Belfast International Airport ahead of the World Cup Qualifier against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.

Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo could have been forgiven for thinking he had landed in New Zealand rather than Belfast when one fan - pictured above - got a little over-excited at meeting his idol.

A large crowd was waiting patiently for the team as they arrived at Belfast International Airport ahead of their crucial Group F encounter with Northern Ireland this evening.

But fans were only there to see one man — Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid star was one of the first to emerge from the arrivals gate yesterday afternoon — and he didn’t disappoint.

The former Manchester United player swaggered through the airport wearing a red baseball cap backwards and a wristwatch adorned with gold.

Two security officials from Portugal accompanied him, however a couple of lucky autograph-hunters managed to get their idol's signature before the security presence around him intensified.

Ronaldo appeared in a rather sombre mood, though, as he was besieged by fans, barely uttering a response as they tried to enter into conversation about the match. Perhaps he was still reeling from Gareth Bale's record £85m transfer to Real Madrid last week, eclipsing the Portugese star’s £80m transfer fee from Manchester United in 2009.

As he passed through the arrivals lounge it took the gathered crowd a few minutes to realise that behind Ronaldo was former Liverpool and Chelsea midfielder Raul Meireles, Valencia striker Helder Postiga and Manchester United's Nani to name just a few.

The impressive list of players in head coach Paulo Bento's squad appeared to be happy to allow fans to descend on their more illustrious team-mate. They weren’t completely ignored, however.

It was Nani who was next to be crowded by fans, although not as many as those who tried to speak to Ronaldo.

Speculation had surrounded Ronaldo's former Man Utd team-mate this summer, as he was linked with a number of moves away from Old Trafford. However, yesterday he signed a new five-year deal that will keep him with the Red Devils until 2018.

As the Ronaldo roadshow exited the airport to board the team bus, the sense of excitement diminished for the gathered fans.

Some tried in vain to find out which hotel the team were staying at, which was a closely guarded secret. However, for those in the know, the team bus, under police escort, proceeded to make its way to the Hilton Hotel in Belfast. If fans who knew to gather there thought they might get a chance to speak to their heroes, they were left disappointed.

The team bus pulled up directly outside the entrance to the hotel as security and police prevented those gathered from getting an up-close view of the players. Ronaldo was the last player to leave the bus, on his mobile and wearing a pair of dark sunglasses. He still got a cheer as he made his way through the revolving doors and into the hotel.

The former Fifa World Player of the Year will be hoping that his welcome into Belfast will be matched by the reception he receives on the field this evening.

The last time he played on Northern Ireland soil in 2005, he was the equivalent of a pantomime villain for the Windsor Park faithful who booed and jeered him. That game ended in a draw, when Warren Feeney equalised for Northern Ireland. Ronaldo was aged 20 then and he has gone from strength to strength in the years since. Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will be hoping to go one better than that result, though, as his side searches for a second win in a row after beating Russia last month.

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