Wednesday 22 November 2017

Ronaldo calls on refs to protect 'skilful players'

Ivory Coast 0
Portugal 0

Mark Ogden in Port Elizabeth

Cristiano Ronaldo demanded more protection from match officials after criticising Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda for booking him during Portugal's bruising stalemate against Ivory Coast.

The Portuguese forward's impact was checked by a series of heavy challenges by the Ivorian defenders, culminating in a clash with full-back Guy Demel that resulted in Ronaldo being booked by Larrionda -- who moments earlier had shown Didier Zokora yellow for a foul on Portugal's talisman.

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz claimed Ivory Coast subjected Ronaldo to "intimidation tackles" and the player echoed those concerns by insisting referees have a duty to protect flair players in a competition now crying out for some kind of stardust.

Ronaldo said: "Was I concerned about the fouls on me? Sometimes it is difficult for me when referees give free-kicks against me because they think I dive.

"The game is quick, but I don't understand decisions of the referees when they do these things. They should protect the more skilful players in the tournament when they are getting fouled by the opposition.

"One of their players (Demel) fouled me in the first half and I got a yellow card for it. I don't understand it. When it is three against one, as it was with their players against me, it is not fair to book me."

With the stakes so high for two teams battling to emerge from Group G with tournament favourites Brazil, neither Portugal nor Ivory Coast were shy when it came to mixing physicality with flair, but Queiroz claimed that Sven-Goran Eriksson's players were overly aggressive, particularly when dealing with Ronaldo.

"Ronaldo was fantastic today," he said. "In the past, we have seen Pele, Beckenbauer and Cruyff lead their teams to winning positions and he is capable of that. But the tackles were intimidation tackles and the officials don't protect talented footballers.

"The Ivory Coast players are strong, but it was a game where they tried to impose their physical side. We are small and light players, but we fight for everything."

Ronaldo, who rattled a post from 35 yards, can perhaps blame the suffocating pressure on the two teams for his rough treatment.

The fear of failure is threatening to squeeze the life out of this World Cup and match-winners such as Ronaldo are likely to be the first to suffer.

A fixture that should have been a highlight of the group stages faded into another war of attrition after a bright, but false, start.

Ronaldo was quickly shackled and Ricardo Carvalho, Portugal's enforcer, did his own job on the impressive Gervinho.

Chances were few and far between and avoiding defeat ahead of their meetings with Brazil was all that mattered for both coaches.

"Teams are a little scared about losing their first game and, if you start to attack frenetically against Portugal, players like Ronaldo and Liedson will kill you," said Eriksson.

"Portugal are No 3 in the rankings and Brazil are No 1, so of course it is difficult for us, but we should be happy with the result. It was two teams who didn't want to lose the game, but if any team wanted to win, it was Ivory Coast."

The Ivorians now face Brazil with their qualification ambitions boosted by Didier Drogba's return from a broken arm as a substitute.

Drogba said: "I will be better for the next game, that's for sure. We did everything in our hands just to try the impossible and, by the grace of God, the impossible has happened.

"It is amazing. The work the doctors have done is incredible. It's not easy to recover quickly from surgery and a broken bone and I'm just so, so grateful to be here and playing.

"Brazil is going to be difficult, but I hope I will have those next few days to improve my condition. But I'm confident."

Brazil should be concerned. A fit Drogba and belligerent opponents will make the encounter anything but predictable. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Ivory Coast -- Barry, K Toure, Zokora, Kalou (Drogba 66), Tiote, Gervinho (Keita 82), Dindane, Tiene, Y Toure, GR Demel, E Eboue (K Romaric 89).

Portugal -- Eduardo, Alves, Ferreira, Carvalho, Ronaldo, Mendes, Liedson, Danny (Simao 55), Meireles (Amorim 85), Deco (Tiago 62), Coentrao.

REF -- J Larrionda (Uruguay).

Irish Independent

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