‘Centre-back’ Ronaldo set for milestone

Sports

When Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo picks up his 100th cap against Northern Ireland on Tuesday, he will reflect on a career which started in central defence and was marked by early shyness before an explosion of attacking flair made him one of soccer's greatest players.

"It was on August 20th, 2003, against Kazakhstan, that I put on our national shirt for the first time. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life and a path which I am proud of," Ronaldo wrote on his Facebook page. He came on as a substitute for Luis Figo in what was, in retrospect, a symbolic handover from one Portuguese hero to another.

At 27, he will become one of the youngest European footballers to reach 100 caps behind Germany's Lukas Podolski and Estonia's Kristen Viikmae. He is Portugal's third most capped player of all time behind Figo with 127 and centre back Fernando Couto with 110.

"On Tuesday, I will reach my 100th cap next to my people and only with a victory in mind. I would like to thank all of those who helped me reach this point and will pack the stadium cheering for us," Ronaldo wrote.

Indeed he has many to thank, starting with his first coach, Madeira primary school teacher Francisco Afonso. "He took his chances and always had the desire to learn and go further," Afonso was quoted as saying by Portuguese daily o Jogo. "Curiously, he started playing as a centre-back. But, because he wanted to organise everything his way, he eventually went up field and became a forward."

Ronaldo will captain Portugal at home to Northern Ireland on Tuesday as they try to bounce back from Friday's 1-0 defeat at Group F leaders Russia. The Portuguese are second in the group, three adrift on six points from three games, and in need of more match-winning magic from their proud leader.

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