All eyes on Cristiano Ronaldo again as Portugal come to town

Jason Knight hoping Ireland can keep Man United star quiet for the duration this time

Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace denied Ireland a famous win in Portugal in September. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace denied Ireland a famous win in Portugal in September. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Thursday’s result means nothing to Ireland, yet the game means everything to Irish soccer. For Cristiano Ronaldo it is another night under the bright lights, where he tends to deliver when it matters the most.

“He’s probably one of, if not the only, player in world football that could have scored those two goals,” offered Josh Cullen when the alchemy of Estadio Algarve on September 1st was revisited. “We know what a special player he is and yeah we managed to [keep him quiet] for 89 minutes but we would have much preferred to have done it for 95 or whatever it was in the end.”

Ronaldo has been repeating the exact same trick, almost at will for Manchester United, with goal scoring numbers that remain as astronomical as his bank balance.

Since his double dose of misery cancelled John Egan’s headed opener in Faro, and made the international goal scoring record his own, the 36-year-old has been in vintage form, nabbing a hat-trick in the 5-0 whipping of Luxembourg and literally breathing life into the managerial career of Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

Ronaldo has five goals in four Champions League outings this season, with a pair of aces in Atalanta last Tuesday needing to be seen to be believed. He even has four Premier League goals despite United stumbling from one humiliation to another.

Jason Knight knows little of the world inhabited by CR7. He does know Wayne Rooney, intimately at this stage, as the Derby County manager attempts the impossible of keeping the club from relegation. They are rooted to the bottom of the Championship after 17 matches, five points adrift of Barnsley, having been docked 12 points for entering administration.

“I have talked to the gaffer about his own career and [Ronaldo] has come up a couple of times in terms of how professional he is and how he lives his life,” said Knight. “You watch him on the TV and you can see that he’s one of the best players that has played.

“It is hard to stop him but Portugal have a lot of very good players and it’s not just against Ronaldo that you’re playing and you have to look and focus on other players and the whole team as a collective and that is what we’re going to try and do.”

That is what Ireland almost did so effectively without Knight in Faro as the 20-year-old Dubliner was nursing a damaged ankle following a preseason collision with Rooney that conjured images of the kamikaze challenges once associated with England’s greatest goal scorer.

“It was just a slip from the gaffer in training. It was well documented in the past but it was just a freak accident and thankfully I’m back from it and playing a lot now and doing alright.”

Was ‘Wazza’ contrite about losing his young midfielder on the eve of an already impossible mission?

“I hope he was devastated! No, he obviously didn’t mean it. It kept me out for a few weeks and it was something that I had to learn from as I haven’t had too many injuries in my career so far. I have come past it and sort of feel stronger for it.”

The real shame was Knight being stolen from an Irish system that was beginning to grown around him with Jamie McGrath appearing to have secured the attacking midfield slot behind Adam Idah.

“I feel comfortable on the ball wherever I play and hopefully I can just get some minutes.”

Portugal are to remain ensconced in the “City of Football” outside Lisbon until the last possible moment. This has plenty to do with their billionaire captain and the circus that pursues him.

They land into Dublin on Wednesday evening and after a quick stretch up Lansdowne Road they’ll disappear from view until supporters from all corners of Ireland descend upon the Aviva Stadium for a World Cup qualifier, that means nothing, yet has captured the imagination of almost everyone.

Victory would ease Portugal two points clear of Serbia with the Group A contenders battling for supremacy next Sunday, at the same time that Ireland round out their campaign in Luxembourg.

Bristol City winger Callum O’Dowd has joined the squad in place of injured Cardiff City striker James Collins.

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth). Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley). Midfielders: Conor Hourihane (Sheffield United, on loan from Aston Villa), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Jason Knight (Derby County), Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren). Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City).

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