Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland can rain on Ronaldo's parade, says Niall McGinn

By Steven Beacom

The ‘wee country boy from Donaghmore' Niall McGinn would love the opportunity to rock the world of Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo again at Windsor Park tomorrow evening.

In October last year it was McGinn's brilliant first-half goal that piled the pressure on Portugal the night that their favourite son won his 100th cap.

And while the Portuguese side levelled the World Cup qualifier late in the fray, the 1-1 result seriously undermined their hopes of qualifying for Rio 2014.

In many ways they have been struggling to control Group F ever since.

Portugal may top the table by two points from Russia, but Fabio Capello's side have a game in hand and remain favourites to finish first and qualify automatically for next year's finals in Brazil... and that despite losing 1-0 to Northern Ireland last month.

The runners-up in the group — Israel remain in the hunt for that — take part in an always edgy play-off.

Portugal will arrive at Windsor knowing they cannot afford to drop any more points — a draw like the one in Porto almost a year ago would be a huge blow to Ronaldo's dream of guiding his country to World Cup glory.

Tyrone man McGinn makes no bones about it. He'd love to disappoint the former Manchester United star, just as he did when netting his first international goal.

“The goal in Portugal definitely brings back happy memories for me and this is another opportunity to go out and impress again,” said Aberdeen sharpshooter McGinn, who created the winner for Martin Paterson against Russia.

“It's a game I'm really looking forward to especially after our win against Russia. It's really good for us that this match has come so quickly after such a positive result.

“We know we may not have much possession in the game and we may not have many chances so if they do come along we'll have to take them. I'd love to be on the end of an opportunity as I'm hungry for another international goal after scoring my first in Portugal.”

Reflecting on that superb result and performance in Porto, the 26-year-old revealed that it gave him a huge confidence boost.

“It was a massive night. It was Ronaldo's 100th cap, we were playing Portugal in their backyard and nobody gave us a chance in the game.

“It was special for me to score when the match was all about Ronaldo. He is one of the best players in the world and for a wee country boy like me from Donaghmore to score on a special night for him was fantastic. He came off the pitch bitterly disappointed and obviously we hope that is the case this time as well.

“When I met up with the squad for the game in Porto I didn't think I would be starting even though I had scored in the three previous games for Aberdeen. When my chance came I knew I had to take it.

“To score my first international goal was a huge boost for me. It gave me great confidence and I went on to score in eight consecutive games for Aberdeen.

“After the final whistle in Portugal there was actually a feeling of disappointment amongst the boys that we didn't win the game with them equalising so late on.

“On reflection though we know coming away with a point was a great result for us. We must have confidence from that and also our victory over Russia and take it into Friday night's match.”

With Craig Cathcart injured and Daniel Lafferty suspended for tomorrow, the last thing manager Michael O'Neill needed was more knocks to Aaron Hughes and Ryan McGivern.

McGinn admitted that the team was “down to the bare bones defensively” but added the players coming in can do the job required.

Time will tell on that one, but what's clear is that McGinn, who has started the season in fine scoring form in the Scottish Premiership, is relishing another big night at Windsor Park.

He said: “I'm happy to be playing. There was a stage in my career that I wasn't playing at club or international level and that was frustrating. I'm playing the best football of my career at Aberdeen and I'm involved at international level. I'm really happy with my football and life is good.”

It would get even better if Northern Ireland could pull off a shock against Portugal.

McGinn concluded: “We'll go out and give our all. It is up to us to make sure that Portugal know they have been in a game.”

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