When Portugal and Northern Ireland meet in Group F play in European World Cup qualifying, it's clear that the Portuguese will be heavy favorites to earn a resounding victory.
And considering the Portuguese are fresh off a 1-0 loss to Russia, I highly doubt the country will look past Northern Ireland or will come into this match with any lack of motivation.
With an all-star cast that includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Jose Moutinho, the Portuguese boast one of the top squads in the world. Northern Ireland aren't so lucky. Let's take a closer look at a matchup that, on paper, looks pretty lopsided.
Where: Estadio do Dragao, Porto, Portugal
When: Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 3:45 p.m. ET
What They're Saying
Portugal may be heavily favored, but don't tell that to Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes. He feels if he and his teammates play their cards right, they're more than capable of surprising the Portuguese.
"We can't expect to have even 50 per cent possession," said Hughes.
"Russia were dominated by Portugal and won, but that's maybe what we want to do—sit and defend and hit them on the counter attack."
Having lost in Russia and suffered the ignominy of a 1-1 home draw against Luxembourg, Michael O'Neill's side face a side placed third in the FIFA rankings and are roundly expected to be brushed aside.
Hughes added: "Everything will be stacked against us and when we do have possession and the ball does fall for us they can get a few passes in and create a few chances for ourselves."
Most Important Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Whenever the world's second-best player is on the pitch, he's the man you can't take your eyes off of. His speed attacking off the left flank. His ability to break down defenders at ease off the dribble. His powerful shots from distance. His patented sour face after things don't go his way.
But beyond being a game he and his countrymen should easily win, this one is particularly special for the Real Madrid star, who will be earning his 100th international cap for Portugal in this one. According to James Masters of CNN, only Luis Figo (127) and Fernando Couto (110) have more in Portugal's history.
Pretty cool stuff. And if past performances are any indication, expect pretty dominant stuff from Mr. Ronaldo.
Key Matchup: Northern Ireland Defense vs. Portugal Attack
Hughes pretty much nailed it on the head—Northern Ireland aren't going to see a ton of possession, and the best shot the side has of winning is if they can capitalize on the counterattack opportunities they have.
Of course, it's a moot point if they don't play solid defense and keep Portugal from scoring in the first place. Keeper Roy Carroll will have to be stout, and Northern Ireland—who have been hit hard by injuries and have taken just one point after two games in Group F play—will need to play a defensive game for the ages.
Anything can happen on the pitch, this much is certain. But it will certainly be a tall task for Northern Ireland to sustain the constant Portuguese pressure without breaking in the back.
I don't see this one going well for Northern Ireland, who have the unfortunate task of trying to deal with a talented Portuguese side looking to rebound after a loss to Russia. Ronaldo and Co. will cruise, winning 3-0.
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