NORTHERN Ireland boss Michael O’Neill believes Cristanio Ronaldo will come to Belfast looking for revenge in next week’s World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park.
O’Neill’s braves gate-crashed the Real Madrid star’s big night in Porto on October 16 last year when they battled out a 1-1 - on his 100th appearance for his country.
With Northern Ireland’s qualification hopes gone, the Portuguese will travel to Belfast looking for three points in their bid to pip Russia at the top of the Group F table.
O’Neill on Tuesday named Kyle Lafferty, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans in his 22-man squad for the double header against Portugal next Friday, September 10, and Luxembourg the following Tuesday.
O’Neill, who celebrated his first win in the Northern Ireland hot-seat against Russia earlier this month, admits Ronaldo will be a massive threat.
“Perhaps, there will be little bit of revenge in his mind... I don’t know?” said O’Neill. “It’s a vital game for Portugal. The have to come and win at Windsor Park.
“They’ll obviously have looked at the Russian game and will be under no illusions that it will be a tough night for them. And, they’ll reflect on our performance out there in Porto.
“The qualification still rests in Russia’s hands - and they’ll want to take that away from them, given the fact that they don’t play each other again.
“Portugal will know they cannot afford to drop any points against us.
“How we deal with Ronaldo is another issue. It has to be a team ethic - we can’t leave it to an individual. He is such an awesome player. He can test you in so many ways.
“People will look at his shooting ability or the way he goes past players. But he has fantastic heading technique. It means we’ll have to look at how we defend crosses and set pieces.
“There are so many qualities to his game... his free kicks... corners that he attacks in the box. We did really well against him in Porto - it was all down to good organisation and hard work. We’ll require a similar type of performance at Windsor Park.
“If you give players like Ronaldo space, that’s when they can hurt you most.”
O’Neill admitted Ronaldo is a perfect role model for any budding young footballers, adding: “To have over 100 caps at his age is a credit to himself. His statistics are frightening. He never fails to turn up... he’s always there, even for friendly internationals.
“Given his standing in world football, he doesn’t appear to have any super star status among his own squad. He’s a credit to the game in the modern era.
“His desire to play is unquestionable.”
Although the qualification hopes have evaporated, O’Neill is still looking for a positive end to the campaign - this team could still finish third.
“My focus is getting three points from this game,” he added. “You can look at all the permutations you want. We came out of pot four in the draw. If we finish in fourth position, I suppose that will be satisfactory, but obviously we would like to do better than that.
“Equally, as we’ve had two really good results in the group, we have to reflect and ensure the disappointments we’ve had don’t repeat themselves.”
Northern Ireland squad:
Goalkeepers: Carroll (Olympiakos), McGovern (Falkirk);
Defenders: Hughes (Fulham), McGivern (Hibernian), Cathcart (Blackpool), McAuley (West Brom), J Evans (Manchester United), Bruce (Hull), Hodson (MK Dons), D Lafferty (Burnley);
Midfielders: Davis (Southampton), Norwood (Huddersfield), McGinn (Aberdeen), Ferguson (Birmingham), C Evans (Blackburn), Brunt (West Brom), O’Connor (Rotherham);
Forwards: Lafferty (Palermo), Grigg (Brentford), McKay (Inverness), Paterson (Huddersfield), Ward (Derby).