Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday will be finding himself in the unenviable position of having to confront both his closest rivals and some of his best friends.
In the Donetsk semifinal against Spain, Ronaldo is to face his Real Madrid friends Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso. However, he will also come up against Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets or Andres Iniesta, Real’s traditional Barcelona rivals.
Adding to the plot, Portugal also feature Real Madrid’s Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, so the match could turn into a sort of remix of the hot-blooded classics of Spanish football between the white and blue-and-red shirts.
Spain’s players are well aware of the potential of the Portugal superstar, who has scored 69 goals so far this season.
“Cristiano makes a difference on a global scale. He has taken it upon himself to carry Portugal’s weight over the past two matches, and personal challenges are the best for any footballer,” Sergio Ramos said late Saturday.
“We know of his ability, his capacity to be definitive, and we know he can make trouble at any time,” said Xabi Alonso.
Busquets noted that it is most likely Ronaldo will play on the left, where he would face his Real Madrid teammate Arbeloa.
“He probably knows best how to stop him, but we all have to help,” said Barcelona’s defensive midfielder.
Pique, who almost always marked Ronaldo well and who shared a changing room with the star at Manchester United, stressed that the Portuguese player has “incredible qualities.” “We’ll have to mark him collectively with a lot of help, knowing that he can get past you but that there will be a teammate behind who can give you a hand. Having the ball will mean that he is less involved and that he has fewer options of getting past,” the defender said.
The personal clash between Ronaldo and keeper Casillas will be a major source of interest in Donetsk.
Although there was once talk of a bad relationship between the two, it seems things have gone back to normal, and on Sunday Portugal’s Joao Pereira even mentioned the possibility that they might have sent each other text messages ahead of the semifinal.
Jose Manuel Ochotorena, the coach for Spain keepers, stressed that knowing rivals well can be both “good and harmful.” “One knows the other. With a player like Cristiano, the difficulty lies in the changes of direction the ball makes when he shoots,” he said.