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Hughes hopes to surprise Portugal

AARON Hughes expects Northern Ireland to see precious little of the ball against the might of Portugal tomorrow night, but still holds out hope of springing a surprise.

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 at the Dragao Stadium.

Plenty of focus is sure to go to Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Real Madrid star set to win his 100th cap in the match, and Hughes admits the attacking emphasis will overwhelmingly be on the hosts. Nevertheless he sees some reason for hope in Russia's victory over the same opponents on Friday. Portugal had much the better of the possession but found themselves undone 1-0.

"Their players are among the best in the world and the other night in Russia they had 72 per cent or so there, and we know how hard it is against the Russians, but they ultimately still lost which they are disappointed about," said the Fulham defender.

"We talk about possession and you can talk about stats all you want but it is the result (that matters). You don't necessarily win a game with good possession. 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.

"We can't expect to have even 50 per cent of the possession against Portugal.

"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."

Hughes, meanwhile, praised Ronaldo on the eve of his landmark appearance.

"I have played a handful of times against him but maybe he has gone to another level since his days in the Premier League and maybe he can go further," said Hughes. "I don't think he has peaked, believe it or not. He is still going and appears to be getting better."