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Portugal set for Ronaldo boost against Norway
Published : 04 Jun 2011 08:00:07
Portugal will be hoping Cristiano Ronaldo carries his goalscoring form into the international arena when he leads his nation into battle in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Norway on Saturday.
The 26-year-old forward netted an incredible 53 goals in 54 appearances for Real Madrid this season, including a record 40 in the league, but missed Portugal's recent friendlies with Finland and Chile through injury.
Norway lead Portugal by three points at the top of Group H, and with only the top side guaranteed a place at next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine, Ronaldo and company can scarcely afford a setback against Egil Olsen's men.
"The objective is to win and go top of the group," said centre-back Bruno Alves. "Norway are a strong team, but we are preparing very well and in the end we will win."
An error from goalkeeper Eduardo gifted Erik Huseklepp the only goal of the game when the sides last met in Oslo in September, in what became Carlos Queiroz's last game in charge of Portugal.
His replacement, Paulo Bento, subsequently oversaw back-to-back 3-1 defeats of both Denmark and Iceland in October that set Portugal's qualifying campaign back on track.
A magisterial 4-0 thrashing of world champions and Iberian rivals Spain in November, meanwhile, went some way towards dissipating memories of the embarrassing 4-4 draw with Cyprus in Portugal's first qualifying match.
"In my opinion, Portugal are the world's best national team at the moment," said Norway coach Olsen.
"They are the favourites, but I am optimistic. We can take a point, and even win. Portugal have to win against us, and that may be to our advantage."
The other Group H match on Saturday sees Iceland host Denmark, who will finish the weekend level on points with Portugal and Norway if they win in Reykjavik and the home side prevail in Lisbon.
In Group G, England and Montenegro can put clear daylight between themselves and their rivals with wins in their respective home fixtures.
Neck and neck at the group summit on 10 points, England host Switzerland at Wembley while Montenegro take on Bulgaria in Podgorica.
Victories for both table-toppers, who drew 0-0 when they met last October, would allow them to open up a nine-point lead on the third-placed Swiss and fourth-placed Bulgarians with only three games to play.
"We had a good result against them (Switzerland) away early in the qualifiers (a 3-1 win in September) which gave us confidence, but it's all about us and how well prepared, fit and ready that we are," said England midfielder Frank Lampard.
"I think at Wembley, we're going to have a very good chance."
Carrick was unlikely to start, however, as coach Fabio Capello is expected to keep faith with the trio of Lampard, Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere that started the 2-0 win in Wales in March.
Montenegro coach Zlatko Kranjcar is able to welcome back 21-year-old attacker Stevan Jovetic, who only returned to action for Fiorentina last month after suffering serious knee ligament damage in pre-season.
Meanwhile, Russia, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland enter their Group B fixtures level on 10 points at the top of the pool.
Slovakia host whipping boys Andorra, Russia meet Armenia in Saint Petersburg and Ireland travel to second-bottom Macedonia.