Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Cristiano Ronaldo 'a threat to the whole back four', says Michael O'Neill ahead of Northern Ireland v Portugal clash

The Portugal team arrive in Belfast  ahead of their World Cup Qualifier against Northern Ireland
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo
©Russell Pritchard / Presseye
The Portugal team arrive in Belfast ahead of their World Cup Qualifier against Northern Ireland Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo ©Russell Pritchard / Presseye
Michael O'Neill, Northern Ireland manager
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo arrives with his team at Belfast International Airport ahead of Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo arrives with his team at Belfast International Airport ahead of Friday night's World Cup Qualifier against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes Cristiano Ronaldo will still regard himself as the best player in the world when he makes his first appearance since Gareth Bale's arrival at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo's first chance to underline his worth comes when Portugal take on Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying at Windsor Park on Friday night.

Bale swapped Tottenham for the Bernabeu in a deal which is believed to be worth a world record £85.3million - more than the £80million the Spanish club paid Manchester United for Ronaldo in 2009 - although full details of the fee have not been released.

And there have been musings as to how the arrival of Bale, a player with a price tag to rival his own, will affect Ronaldo's mood at Real Madrid.

It would not be unlike the mercurial 28-year-old to produce something special at Windsor Park, but O'Neill does not expect anything different from a player who has rarely suffered from a lack of self-belief.

Asked if Bale's signing created extra pressure on Ronaldo, O'Neill said: "I would doubt that extremely. He will regard himself as the best player in the world and he proves it every time he goes on the pitch.

"His aim is to prove that every time. He is a player who has the freedom of the pitch - he's not just a threat to whoever plays at right-back, he's a threat to the whole back four.

"It's not just a case of can we get someone to stifle him in that area of the pitch because he will just come to another area to get the ball."

O'Neill's side have previous form against Portugal, claiming a surprise 1-1 draw in Porto in the reverse fixture last October.

That night was supposed to be a celebration of Ronaldo's 100th cap but the party fell flat when Niall McGinn's goal ensured the unfancied visitors left with a point.

A similar result in Belfast would suit the hosts and O'Neill was unapologetic about the kind of game his team will have to produce to get it.

He has encouraged his side to play a passing style during his first campaign at the helm, but warned he would not be asking his men to go toe-to-toe with opposition ranked seventh in the world by FIFA.

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