Ronaldo back for Portugal’s vital Denmark game
Cristiano Ronaldo will return for Portugal against Denmark on Friday as new coach Paulo Bento looks to turn around a team still looking for its first win in European Championship qualifying.
The Portuguese lie fourth in five-team Group H after a draw and a defeat and won’t want to drop any more points at Porto’s Stadium of the Dragon.
"We can’t afford any more slip-ups," Ronaldo said.
Denmark beat Portugal 3-2 in Lisbon two years ago in World Cup qualifying, but will be without key striker Nicklas Bendtner because of a groin injury in Porto.
Portugal’s Euro 2012 campaign has been a rocky ride so far. Coach Carlos Queiroz was fired last month after his supension for misconduct forced him to sit out the country’s first two qualifiers.
Queiroz was already under fire after Portugal went out in the second round at the World Cup against eventual champion Spain.
Then the Portuguese produced lame performances in a 1-0 loss at Norway and a 4-4 draw at home against lowly Cyprus. The winless run constituted Portugal’s worst start to a qualifying campaign since 1996.
Ronaldo acknowledged that Bento, his former teammate at Sporting Lisbon, faces "a tough situation" on his debut after just a few days to train with the players.
The 41-year-old Bento’s only previous senior coaching experience was at Sporting Lisbon between 2005-09. The Portuguese Football Federation tried to hire Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho as an interim coach but the Spanish club rebuffed the approach.
Ronaldo reckons the break with the troubled recent past could bring a new attitude.
"What happened, happened. Now we have to think about the present. If we win our next two matches, we’ll be able to breathe easier," the Real Madrid forward said. "It’s a new era, with new players and a new coach. Our priority is to get two wins that will keep us in contention."
Fans are also hoping Ronaldo, who returns from injury, can produce some better form after scoring only twice in 18 games under Queiroz. That’s compared with 21 goals in 58 appearances under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Queiroz’s predecessor.
Portugal’s bigger worry, though, is the error-prone defending it showed against Finland and Cyprus. Bruno Alves is likely to be dropped while Real Madrid pair Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe take over in central defense.
Denmark won its only qualifier so far, beating Iceland, and Christian Poulsen reckons the Danes may be able to take advantage of Portuguese fragility.
"Portugal’s a little bit under pressure. We are coming here to take our chance at getting a good result," the Liverpool player said.
Coach Morten Olsen is more wary, however.
"They have some new players, some new motivation. That’s always dangerous for the opponent, and we’re the opponent," he said.
The Danish squad includes a mix of veterans and new faces as Olsen reshapes his team following the retirement of several players, including Jon Dahl Tomasson and Martin Jorgensen, after the World Cup.
Daniel Agger, Thomas Kahlenberg and Morten Skoubo are unavailable through injury.