If Portugal's global record in the "Iberian derby" – as João Pereira referred to it yesterday – leaves little to be desired, recent meetings give cause for encouragement. In a competitive context, the 1-0 win against Spain at UEFA EURO 2004 is the stuff of legend, but the last match between the sides inspires even more optimism. Portugal ran out 4-0 winners in a November 2010 friendly, before an Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica crowd rubbing its eyes in disbelief.
Yet there was one nagging disappointment on that giddy night in Lisbon: the opening goal should have been Cristiano Ronaldo's. He made a characteristic burst down the left, put Gerard Piqué on his backside with a razor-sharp turn and left Xabi Alonso in his wake before sending a perfect chip over Iker Casillas. Unfortunately, Nani nodded the already goalbound effort into the net from an offside position and it was disallowed.
Thus Ronaldo maintained a record of never having scored against La Roja. He has played against them three times – besides the friendly in 2010, he appeared in that famous win in 2004, as a 19-year-old, and in the disappointing loss to the eventual champions in Cape Town in June 2010 at the FIFA World Cup.
The feeling in Spain is that this is a mere anomaly, and Spanish concern is that Ronaldo could be set to break the hearts of the country in which he works and makes his home on Wednesday. Despite his current hot streak, the players who know him best believe there is even more to come.
"I don't think that Cristiano is quite at his best level, because he put in an incredible season at Real Madrid," said Spain captain Casillas. Knowing Ronaldo's game and being able to stop him promise to be two entirely different things.
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