Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill faces an uphill struggle againt Portugal tonight

IT IS litte wonder Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is praying for Ronaldo to have a shocker tonight.

He has been on hot form for his Real Madrid club despite his grumblings that he didn’t feel wanted anymore at the Spanish giants.

The striker bagged a goal in the recent El Clasico against Barcelona that secured them a deserved draw.

And going by his recent performances – 11 goals in 14 – there is little chance of footballer having a stinker.

Even the bookies are laying odds of 9/2 that the 27-year-old, who is expected to captain his country and pick up his 100th international cap, will hit Northern Ireland for a hatrick.

It is an ominous sign for the travelling ‘Green and White Army’ who are in Porto for this evenings game

Have a night off Ronnie, begst O’Neill

“I would be happy if he has a really poor game and he is remembered for having a bad night on his 100th cap,” said the Northern Ireland boss.

“I hope he has an off night.”

O’Neill’s squad has been hugely injury-hit in the build-up to this evening’s game.#

‘Norn Iron’ are without up to 10 key players, including Gareth McAuley, Shane Ferguson, Chris Brunt and Grant McCann.

Although O’Neill should be able to call on an experienced back four, he has a selection headache in midfield with Oliver Norwood, Pat McCourt and Corry Evans vying for rare competitive starts.

Portuguese coach Paulo Bento has already named his team and it shows one change from Friday’s 1-0 defeat by Russia with Miguel Lopes replacing injured Fabio Coentrao at left-back.

Even with an expected defeat tonight, Northern Ireland play their next qualifiers at home, staring with Azerbaijan on November 14.

O’Neill will be rallying his troops in the dressing room before the game to rise to the challenge of facing the Euro 2012 semi-finalists.

“We have lost four or five players who would really be key players for us but when that happens, there’s opportunities for others,” he said.

“They’ll get the chance to test themselves against world-class opposition in a fantastic stadium.

“For many of them, it will be the biggest night of their career and it’s up to them to embrace that situation and take full advantage of it.”

However, the presence of the in-form Ronaldo makes Northern Ireland’s task appear monumental, as O’Neill appeared to acknowledge on Monday.

“We know what we are facing here. I think what Ronaldo has is he is a goal machine as well as creative, I have seen him numerous times, we know where the threat will come from.

“His ability is not just in set-pieces or taking free-kicks but also corners and he is very good in the air, attacking things from the back post area.”




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