Cristiano Ronaldo can stamp his mark on Euro 2008 in much the same way that Michel Platini and Zinedane Zidane bestrode the European championships of 1984 and 2000 and Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup.
So believes veteran teammate Nuno Gomes who waxed lyrical about Manchester United’s sensational winger at Portugal’s pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s opening Group A clash with Turkey in Geneva.
When asked if Ronaldo could match the feats of Platini, ZZ and Maradona the Benfica forward, speaking in English, replied: “I hope so and I think so.
“I believe he has the quality to be the man of the tournament, I wish he could be that man but he doesn’t have to prove himself.
“The things he’s done have already made him the biggest player of the year, and as he’s young he has many more years to play and can be the star of not only 2008 but the 2010 World Cup and (Euro) 2012 too!”
Ronaldo skippers favourites Portugal, the 2004 finalists and 2006 World Cup semi-finalists, against Turkey, the 23-year-old taking over the mantle left by the retirement of golden boy Luis Figo.
With 41 goals to his credit last season United’s Premier League and Champions League winner has developed into the type of player who can turn a game.
He approaches the tournament with frenzied speculation over whether he will stay at United or take up a world record transfer offer from Real Madrid.
Yet another teammate Paulo Ferreira believes that uncertainty won’t distract him from the job in hand.
“In spite of the clubs offers, he (Ronaldo) is mentally tough enough to remain focussed on the task in hand,” said Ferreira, who saw his Chelsea side finish second best to United in both the Premiership and Champions League.
“Cristiano is a winner. He is in my opinion the best player in the world. He will have a great tournament.”
After the kickings he received in the Premiership the one concern hovering over Ronaldo is the type of heavy-handed treatment that may be awaiting him from rival defenders this month.
While less experienced from the Portugal side that lined up at Euro 2004 and in Germany in 2006 coach Luiz Felipe Scolari can still rely on the likes of Barcelona midfielder Deco and up front Gomes, Simao Sabrosa and Helder Postiga, with Ricardo Carvalho marshalling the defence.
“We have as good a chance as we did in 2004,” claimed Scolari, who before his exploits with Portugal guided Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title.
“This time round, the team is younger and less experienced, but, with good morale we can reach the final,” added ‘Big Phil’.
“The first match is always important. As there are only three first round games it sets the tone for what’s to come. The players are a little nervous.
“The teams’ style is comparable but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be closed.”
Turkey are hoping to draw on the inspiration of the class of 2002 which did outstandingly well to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup that year.
Yet performances on the pitch since suggest they may have a hard time coping with pacey Portugal.
One of their number, Villarreal striker Nihat Kahveci, insists Portugal and not Turkey who have failed to impress in warm-up matches are worthy favourites.
“We have completely messed up in our previous two qualifying set of matches, for Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.
“That is in contrast to the Portuguese, who have put together some impressive performances. It’s therefore logical that they are favourites for the group and for our match.
He added: “Our defence will be the key to the match. Because against the level of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Quaresma or Deco, one has to be extremely disciplined.”
Both Portugal and Turkey, oached by Fatih Terim who goes by the nickname of ‘The Emperor’, qualified for the finals as runners-up respectively to Poland and titleholders Greece.
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