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Oct 15, 2012

O'Neill out to spoil Ronaldo celebrations

Michael O'Neill wants his Northern Ireland players to spoil Cristiano Ronaldo's night as the Real Madrid forward wins his 100th cap for Portugal at the Estadio Dragao.

Ronaldo, 27, becomes only the third player in Portugal's history - after Luis Figo and Fernando Couto - to reach the century.

The landmark has led to lavish tributes being paid to the player, with his former Sporting Lisbon coach Laszlo Boloni hailing him as one of the most important people in Portugal's history.

"I was asked how could I say that Ronaldo was going to be better than Eusebio after he had played just five matches," Boloni told o Jogo. "I answered that Cristiano was exceptional, better than Eusebio and [Fado singer] Amalia, who are part of Portugal's heritage."

O'Neill voiced his admiration for Ronaldo, describing him as a "goal machine", but said he believed his unfancied Northern Ireland side could play the role of party poopers.

"We have to recognise the quality of the opposition, but we are not sitting here just hoping for Ronaldo to have an off night - we have trained to this level in preparation,'' the manager said.

"It is our job to make sure they do have an off night, and we can add to them having a frustrating night by taking our opportunity when it presents itself.

"We know what we are facing here. I think Ronaldo is a goal machine as well as creative. We know where the threat will come from."

O'Neill said Ronaldo's ability from set pieces and in the air presented yet more problems for his defenders, but added: "Can we reduce his possession? Can we get men around him to make life difficult? Of course."

Portugal coach Paulo Bento said he wanted to see Ronaldo playing his normal game despite the occasion, adding: "I know that [100 caps] is a figure very few players will reach but I don't foresee anything special because of that reason.

"What I expect from him is to integrate into the structure we have got and to show all of his ability and quality in the match.''

Northern Ireland skipper Steve Davis said he hoped his team could banish the feelings of lingering frustration caused by the 1-1 home draw against Luxembourg.

"Luxembourg was a big chance to get three points and we were massively disappointed not to, so hopefully something special can happen here and that will kick us off for the campaign,'' he added.

Information from the Press Association was used in this report

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