Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Excellence of Hughes stifles Ronaldo threat

So, how do you stop Cristiano Ronaldo then? Put Aaron Hughes on him, that's how!

After Tuesday night's 1-1 draw, the Portugal skipper will have been wishing that Hughes had not come out of international retirement.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill will be grateful that he did.

The 32-year-old from Cookstown had a terrific game in Porto marshalling Real Madrid's finest in a way that might now enter coaching manuals.

Barcelona defenders will definitely be reading that chapter because while Ronaldo gets plenty of joy against them, he was stifled by the excellence of Hughes, playing at right-back rather than the central defensive position he occupies so well for his club.

Typically Hughes didn't want to take all the credit for keeping Ronaldo relatively quiet on his 100th cap and insisted that Hull City's Corry Evans in front of him deserved much praise in not allowing the Madrid master to run riot like he has done all over the world in recent years.

“Corry had a fantastic game in front of me,” said Hughes.

“It maybe goes unseen a little bit the amount of work he puts in, but from my point of view when someone like Ronaldo is running at you, you can keep him one way because you know Corry is coming at the other side to protect your inside. That helps a lot.”

Hughes added that he felt the Portuguese threat wasn't just going to come from Ronaldo which was why it was so vital that the Northern Ireland team kept their discipline.

The former Newcastle and Aston Villa ace stated: “It’s not just Ronaldo you have to watch because their movement up front is so good.

“He’ll drift over to the right side and Nani will come over from the left, then they’ll both drift over to one side and you’ll end up with two or three of them on your side.

“In that respect, that’s where your team shape and things you work on during the week are important.

“It’s a great point and the thing that stands out most is the performance. In terms of the opposition we came out with not much chance — that’s what people were saying anyway — but we delivered on what we’d worked on all week in training and got our reward.”

Hughes felt that the performance against Portugal was similar to the one in Russia at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign, but unfortunately the trip to Moscow ended in a 2-0 defeat.

Then came the disappointing 1-1 draw against Luxembourg at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland are back in Belfast next month for a home match with Azerbaijan.

“The next game is totally different again,” said Hughes.

“After the draw in Portugal expectations will be up again that we should beat Azerbaijan but they’ll not be an easy team to defeat.

“We’re hoping though that our home form will be good and we can pick up a few points at Windsor and if that gets us back into contention for the last few games in the group that'll be great.

“Our draw with Portugal is something to build on. We won’t get carried away, certainly, but we’ve set a standard now that we know we can play to.”

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