x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Euro 2012: Time for feet to deliver what mouth promises

Cristiano Ronaldo carries the expectations of Portugal, but it does not faze him, writes Andy Mitten.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal lost 3-1 to Turkey on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal lost 3-1 to Turkey on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo is used to pressure. When failure to be man of the match against Barcelona is considered worthy of condemnation, Ronaldo knows he is expected to shine in every game.

He has managed to stand out in a team of Real Madrid stars all season. Doing the same in a team grouped with superior opponents as Portugal have been in Euro 2012 will be more difficult, yet Portugal expects.

Ronaldo, 27 and in his prime, will not be fazed according to those who have worked with him. Quinton Fortune, the former Manchester United midfielder, remembers the confident young man who arrived in England nine years ago.

"He was 18 and didn't waste time telling everyone that he was going to be the best player in the world," said the South African. "The rest of the players found it more amusing than arrogant.

"They rated him because they saw what he could do in training, but players like Ryan Giggs told him not to say such things publicly because he would only pile pressure on himself. Ronaldo laughed at that as if to say, 'I can deal with anything'."

Not since Eric Cantona had United seen a player with so much self-assurance. New acquisitions may arrive at Old Trafford with exalted reputations, but they still have to prove their worth.

Ronaldo had already proved his by tormenting the United defence in a friendly game to open the new home of his former club, Sporting Lisbon. His only ambition was to improve.

"He was incredibly dedicated and competitive in training, he wanted to do everything better than every other player, to learn to do tricks all the time," Fortune said. "He was always the best at step overs, but he started doing them with weights strapped to his ankles so that it would be easier in a real game.

"He would practice even when training finished. He would practice a trick slowly by himself. Then he'd try it in training games. Finally, he'd do it in a real game. If he saw someone do a new trick he would ask them how they did it. Then he'd teach himself until he was the best.

"I used to balance the ball on my forehead and roll it on to the crown of my head. Cristiano asked me about it. Three days later he was better than me at it and he actually goaded me to say that he was better."

Portugal squeezed through qualifying via the play-offs and they are in the toughest group. They first face Germany - in Lviv on Saturday - then Holland and Denmark.

They are managed by the tournament's youngest and most inexperienced coach, the 42-year-old Paulo Bento, someone Ronaldo likes and trusts. The same could not be said about the relationship between Ronaldo and the former coach Carlos Queiroz by the end of his tenure.

Bento and Ronaldo played together when Ronaldo was a rising star at Sporting before his £12.2 million (Dh68.87m) transfer to United in 2003.

Bento also worked daily with current Portugal stalwarts Nani, Rui Patricio, Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho at the Lisbon club when he turned to coaching.

While he is inexperienced, those players talk of the national team being a far happier place to be around since he replaced Queiroz.

A survey in one Portuguese newspaper gave him 84 per cent approval ratings among fans who were tired of the perennially miserable and defensive (tactically on the pitch and personally in the media) Queiroz.

Form has picked up, though the early losses by Queiroz meant a 2-1 away defeat by Denmark in the final qualifier forced Portugal into a play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina to qualify for Euro 2012. They drew 0-0 away before wining 6-2 at home, with free kicks shared between players and less evidence of the Ronaldo dependency seen under Queiroz.

Portugal have beaten Spain 4-0 in a friendly and while their squad has deficiencies - a suspect right-back in Valencia's Joao Pereira and the lack of a top class number 10 since Deco retired - they are solid in midfield with Chelsea's Meireles in the centre. Real Madrid's Pepe is at centre half, but Ricardo Carvalho is missing after storming out of a training camp last September.

Portugal are going into the tournament after two morale-sapping results. A 0-0 draw with European minnows Macedonia and a 3-1 home defeat by Turkey on Saturday.

They do not mind being underdogs, but they will need their top dog to be on sparkling form if they are to qualify from group B.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE