Portugal will be hoping Cristiano Ronaldo carries his goalscoring form into the international arena when he leads his nation into battle in their Euro 2012 qualifier against Norway today.
The 26-year-old forward netted an incredible 53 goals in 54 appearances for Real Madrid this season, including a record 40 in the league, but missed Portugal’s recent friendlies with Finland and Chile through injury.
Norway lead Portugal by three points at the top of Group H and with only the top side guaranteed a place at next year’s finals in Poland and Ukraine, Ronaldo and company can scarcely afford a setback against Egil Olsen’s men.
“The objective is to win and go top of the group,” centerback Bruno Alves said. “Norway are a strong team, but we are preparing very well and in the end we will win.”
An error by goalkeeper Eduardo gifted Erik Huseklepp the only goal of the game when the sides last met in Oslo in September, in what became Carlos Queiroz’s last game in charge of Portugal.
His replacement, Paulo Bento, subsequently oversaw back-to-back 3-1 defeats of both Denmark and Iceland in October that set Portugal’s qualifying campaign back on track.
A magisterial 4-0 thrashing of world champions and Iberian rivals Spain in November last year, meanwhile, went some way toward dissipating memories of the embarrassing 4-4 draw with Cyprus in Portugal’s first qualifying match.
“In my opinion, Portugal are the world’s best national team at the moment,” Norway coach Olsen said. “They are the favorites, but I am optimistic. We can take a point and even win. Portugal have to win against us and that may be to our advantage.”
The other Group H match today sees Iceland host Denmark, who will finish the weekend level on points with Portugal and Norway if they win in Reykjavik and the home side prevail in Lisbon.
In Group G, second-placed Montenegro take on Bulgaria in Podgorica.
Montenegro coach Zlatko Kranjcar is able to welcome back 21-year-old attacker Stevan Jovetic, who only returned to action for Fiorentina last month after suffering knee ligament damage in preseason.
Meanwhile, Russia, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland enter their Group B fixtures level on 10 points at the top of the pool.
Slovakia host whipping boys Andorra, Russia meet Armenia in St Petersburg and Ireland travel to second-bottom Macedonia.