All eyes on Ronaldo as Ireland prepare to face Portugal in Meadowlands
50,000 locals are expected to show up for what promises to be a lively encounter
David Meyler and Wes Hoolahan during the Republic of Ireland’s squad training session in the New York Red Bull ground yesterday morning. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Maybe not quite the intoxicating scenes of 20 summers ago when the Irish and the Italians met on a famous World Cup afternoon in June but at least 50,000 locals are expected to show up at the Metlife Stadium in Meadowlands to see what promises to be a lively encounter between the Republic of Ireland and Portugal.
The intrigue as to whether Cristiano Ronaldo will appear on the field tonight remains heavy, with guarded hints emerging from the Portuguese training camp that he won’t start but will come in at some stage. The Irish team trained in the New York Red Bull ground yesterday morning and on a foggy lunchtime in Jersey, Martin O’Neill smiled when asked by a visiting journalist what he would do to counter the threat that Real Madrid star poses.
“Do you want that in Portuguese? Well, in any language . . . it is very difficult to stop him. He is absolutely superb . . . Just when Messi looked as if he was streets ahead of people, it would have to be Ronaldo stepping up to the mark being the showman that he is. But it is interesting because . . . he has this image that he likes to get the shirt off and stuff. He is a magnificent player. But I asked Roy Keane about him. And Roy has the highest opinion of him both as a player and as a person as well. He said he is a great person. So I am passing that on. And if the message ever gets to him, tell him that Roy Keane still holds him in fantastic regard. I think that he would!”
Robbie Keane revealed that he had voted for Ronaldo as Fifa player of the year but shook his head when he considered the merits of the Portuguese icon and Lionel Messi, with whom he has been vying for individual supremacy.
‘Little dip’“I mean . . . come on? Messi just had a little dip . . . he only scored 50 goals last year was it? But I think Ronaldo in the last two years has stepped up and he seems to be getting better if that is possible. He has been a joy to watch and I have really enjoyed watching Real Madrid this year. With Gareth Bale there as well, I have a bit of an interest there having played with him at Spurs and would hate to come up against those two week in and week out,” said Keane.
“Messi seems a quiet lad whereas Ronaldo is the full package. But you couldn’t pick between them. Himself and Messi are clearly the two best players in the world. Every player wants to play against the best in the world so we hope he does play.”
Paulo Bento, Portugal’s manager, has refused to confirm whether he will play Ronaldo. However, having missed Portugal’s previous two warm-up matches through injury – they were underwhelming in a 0-0 draw against Greece in Portugal and were fortunate to cobble together a 1-0 win against Mexico in Boston on Friday night – it is believed that he may play some part.