BY DICKSON AGBO
Copa America champions, Chile will try to curb Portugal’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo when meet today for Confederations Cup semifinal clash with the goal-ace in rich form despite the tax storm brewing in Spain.
The 32-year-old converted a penalty in Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of New Zealand to claim his 75th international goal. The Real Madrid forward has now scored 16 times in his last 10 games for club and country.
Portugal’s captain will face tax evasion charges in a Madrid court next month, but has dazzled on the pitch in Russia, claiming man-of-the-match awards in all three games, netting two goals and providing an assist.
After steering Portugal to the Euro 2016 title in Paris a year ago, Ronaldo will want to claim a second international title in Sunday’s Confed Cup final in St Petersburg, against Mexico or Germany who meet in the other semifinal.
Ronaldo is closing in on the legendary Ferenc Puskas’ European record of 84 international goals, despite the off-field turmoil and constant speculation about his future, having threatened to quit Real.
“We all know he’s an amazing player, he’s very dangerous and can decide a game alone,” said Chile midfielder Marcelo Diaz, who has often faced Ronaldo with his club Celta Vigo, said during yesterday’s press conference.
“He has had an amazing season in Spain, he’s playing here with the same strength, which is why Portugal are in the semifinal.
“The main thing is trying to stop him getting the ball and scoring.”
Chile, who won the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016, will present Portugal with their toughest test so far in Russia, yet the South Americans have yet to beat Portugal in three attempts with two defeats and a draw.
Fatigue could well be an issue in Portugal’s ranks.
Head coach Fernando Santos opted to rest none of his forward line and it has been a long season for the likes of Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Andre Gomes and Bernardo Silva.
Defender Pepe sits out the game after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament in the big win over the Kiwis.
Left-back Raphael Guerreiro is struggling with a bruised foot from the win over Russia.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has all 23 players fit and midfielder Charles Aranguiz has recovered from a knock in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Australia.
Despite doubts about Alexis Sanchez’s Arsenal future, the Chile camp says their star striker is in high spirits. They hope his good performances will showcase his skills to potential future employers.