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Ronaldo spares Portuguese blushes

07 Sep 2013 00:16:54

Ronaldo spares Portuguese blushes

Cristiano Ronaldo hit a second-half hat-trick to spare Portugal's blushes against Northern Ireland as they won 4-2 on an ill-tempered night that saw three red cards at Windsor Park.

The hosts looked to be on course for a stunning upset when Jamie Ward's scrambled effort put them 2-1 in front and a man to the good after Helder Postiga's dismissal.

But makeshift left-back Chris Brunt saw red on the hour and Ronaldo took control with a pair of powerful headers and a late free-kick, before Kyle Lafferty's dismissal completed Northern Ireland's misery.

Defenders Bruno Alves and Gareth McAuley had earlier traded first-half efforts to send the sides in 1-1 at half-time.

Ronaldo, playing for the first time since Gareth Bale replaced him as the world's most expensive player, overtook Eusebio as his country's second-highest goalscorer on the night and now has 43 for Portugal.

Injuries to Aaron Hughes, Craig Cathcart and Ryan McGivern, as well as Daniel Lafferty's suspension, had left Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill with limited options at full-back but even so his selection was a huge gamble.

MK Dons right-back Lee Hodson was handed the toughest task of his career in marking Ronaldo, while Brunt - a laconic attacking midfielder by trade - was installed on the other side of the back four.

Ronaldo's early touches were roundly booed by the crowd, though it was hard not to admire a wonderful piece of trickery that saw him nutmeg fellow captain Steven Davis.

The Windsor Park faithful had come prepared, though, and quickly broke into a mischievous chorus of "There's only one Gareth Bale".

The first attempt on goal took 16 minutes, Alves heading Joao Moutinho's free-kick just wide.


PA

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