Ronaldo's final hurdle

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Ronaldo's final hurdle

Post by sulehri on Tue Apr 29, 2008 8:17 pm


Cristiano Ronaldo endured an uncharacteristically frustrating night at the Camp Nou

"No problem … No problem." Cristiano Ronaldo repeated the phrase over and over as he reflected on the penalty miss that prevented Manchester United FC leaving the Camp Nou with the priceless away goal that would have swung their UEFA Champions League semi-final tie against FC Barcelona firmly their way. As the press clamoured to speak to the 23-year-old after the goalless draw he did not duck away, facing them with a smile, displaying the confidence that has done so much to take United to within one victory of a third European Champion Clubs' Cup final.

'Always confident'
"Sometimes you score, sometimes you don't. I missed a penalty, no problem," he said. "I'll try to score in Manchester. I'm always confident. I have 38 goals this season. It is not a problem if I miss one or two. I try to do my best every game. Since I have been in Manchester I have scored 15 or 16 penalties I think and missed two. I don't think it's a problem. No one has said anything to me because I always try to score, to play well. Today I missed a penalty, no problem. In Manchester if I have another penalty I will try to score again."

Frustration
It was a rare night of frustration for the Portuguese international who has led United's charge towards a domestic and European double and heads the UEFA Champions League scoring chart with seven goals. A game that started so promisingly for him when Gabriel Milito handled his header in the area soon turned to anguish as he fired the resulting spot-kick wide of Víctor Valdés's left post. From then on little seemed to go right for a player widely expected to succeed Kaká to the Ballon d'Or. While Lionel Messi ran at will at the United defence, Ronaldo was starved of possession.

Torrid evening
When the ball did come his way, he was buffeted and bruised between the Barcelona centre-backs Milito and Rafael Márquez. The latter had a torrid evening trying to contain him. Booked for one cynical block, he might have conceded a penalty with another after Andrés Iniesta had errantly slipped the ball into the forward's path on the edge of his own area. The sight of Ronaldo, kneeling on the Camp Nou turf, hands pointing to the heavens after being clattered to the ground again midway through the second period summed up his evening.

Chelsea test
With crucial games coming thick and fast, though, starting with Saturday's potential title-decider against Chelsea FC, Ronaldo will not be down for long. He has made a habit of thriving in adversity. After his run-in with United team-mate Wayne Rooney in the quarter-finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which led to the England striker's dismissal, it was feared he might be hounded out of the English game. Instead he responded with 17 Premier League goals to help United win the title. His 28 league goals this term have put United on the cusp of reclaiming their crown.

Cantona reminders
The bravado and confidence with which Ronaldo plays is reminiscent of Eric Cantona, himself no stranger to adversity. After eight months out after assaulting a fan during a match against Crystal Palace FC in January 1995, the Frenchman returned to help United overhaul a 12-point defecit against Newcastle United FC to win the title. Like Ronaldo, Cantona gave United a swagger, a belief that nothing was impossible. There is something provocative, intimidating, in the manner in which Ronaldo stands over a free-kick, chest puffed out, square on to the ball, pausing to stretch out the drama before unleashing a dipping, swerving and often unstoppable shot.

'Frightening'
Cantona, though, never took United to the UEFA Champions League final. Ronaldo will get the chance to do so on Tuesday. Outshone by Kaká as Milan brushed United aside at this stage last season, the winger is in no mood to be bossed about again. Ryan Giggs, the one United player on Wednesday who also featured in his side's 1999 UEFA Champions League victory at the Camp Nou, is convinced the 23-year-old's time will come. "It's rare to get a player who is at his top form for so long, for over two years," Giggs said. "Last season he just carried on into this season and his goalscoring record is just phenomenal for a winger. To score that amount of goals is frightening. I think he can get better, he can improve and he will do."

'Play better'
Starting in Manchester on Tuesday. "We are at home, we will have 75,000 people behind us," Ronaldo said. "It's going to be different, we will try to play good football and try to win. I think we'll create more chances in Manchester but it will be a different game and I'm sure we're going to play better." No problem then.
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sulehri
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