Home Sport Goal-poachers Ronaldo and Schick to face off in potential Euro humdinger

Goal-poachers Ronaldo and Schick to face off in potential Euro humdinger

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The joint top goal-scorers at the last European Championship will face each other as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal play Patrik Schick’s Czech Republic in their Euro 2024 Group F opener on Tuesday.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo scores the 2-0 goal during the friendly international soccer match between Portugal and Ireland in Aveiro, Portugal, 11 June 2024. Picture: EPA, JOSE COELHO

THE JOINT top goal-scorers at the last European Championship will face each other as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal play Patrik Schick’s Czech Republic in their Euro 2024 Group F opener on Tuesday (kick-off 9pm SA time).

Ronaldo and Schick both scored five at the Covid-delayed Euro 2020 finals and are likely to shoulder the goal-scoring burden for their sides this time around.

The tournament could be Ronaldo’s international swansong, although the 39-year-old appears as hungry for goals and adulation as ever as he prepares to kick off his sixth Euros.

While he may have moved away from Europe’s elite to play in Saudi Arabia, the goal-getting instincts of the leading scorer in men’s international football seem as sharp as ever.

Having finished second-top scorer in qualifying with 10 goals and smashed 35 in 31 league games for Al-Nassr last season, the seemingly ageless Ronaldo warmed up for the tournament with a brace in their final friendly against Ireland.

While Ronaldo lifted the trophy in 2016, he may still be harbouring a sense of unfinished business on the international stage.

Having sat out most of that final eight years ago through injury, he has failed to propel Portugal to further glory at two subsequent World Cups or at Euro 2020, when they were knocked out in the last 16.

This has been one of Portugal’s most gilded generations, but with Ronaldo and 41-year-old defender Pepe in the twilight of their careers, Euro 2024 has the feel of a last hurrah.

With a squad bulging with talent, Portugal will be, on paper at least, one of the best teams in Germany. They won all of their 10 games in the qualifiers, scoring 36 goals and conceding twice.

Yet their manager Roberto Martinez knows all about the pitfalls of leading a supremely talented bunch of players at international tournaments, having failed to turn Belgium’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ into tournament winners.

Martinez, however, also knows he has arguably the game’s best in Ronaldo.

“We have 23 players. We create competitiveness and the game makes decisions,” he said earlier this month.

“But Cristiano is prepared to help the team and give everything he can give, and there is no other player in the world of soccer who can bring what Cristiano can to the dressing room.”

Schick, who won goal of the tournament at Euro 2020 for his stunner against Scotland from the halfway line, will spearhead a Czech side with very different expectations.

The Czechs finished second in qualifying behind Albania, winning four of their eight matches in a group that also included Poland, Moldova and Faroe Islands.

With Schick absent from the final rounds of qualifying, they found goals hard to come by, but fresh from winning the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, he seems to have shaken off the injuries that hampered him and that could spell trouble for Portugal.

Portugal defender Joao Cancelo, meanwhile, is looking to make up for a lost opportunity after missing out on the last European Championship, he said on Sunday.

Cancelo was dropped just before Euro 2020 after testing positive for Covid-19, something he said still rankles him.

“It was unfair because I had a great season, I felt like I should have been there but life didn’t want it that way,” he said.

“Maybe I had to wait for this moment to be the right one to assert myself,” added the full back, who spent last season on loan at Barcelona from Manchester City.

“No matter how many clubs I play for, the national team is the highlight of my career because in it I represent my family, my friends who played with me on the street,” he added.

“It’s always the highlight, whether in a friendly or in top competition.”

Cancelo, who won the first of his 54 caps in 2016, is expected to feature on Tuesday when the Portuguese open their campaign against the Czech Republic in Group F in Leipzig.

“We want to have a good start, get off on the right foot, and I feel like we have the team to do it. There is a lot of positivity, we are on the right path but the results will tell.”

Reuters

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