Is Zidane running a risk returning to Real without Ronaldo?

By SportsMax Zone March 11, 2019

Zinedine Zidane has returned to Real Madrid in place of Santiago Solari. But the Los Blancos he returns to has no Cristiano Ronaldo. Will that be a hindrance to his success?

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  • Messi and Ronaldo frustrated on international returns Messi and Ronaldo frustrated on international returns

    Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo ended their self-imposed international exiles on Friday but could not inspire their respective nations to victory.

    Messi and Ronaldo both crashed out of the 2018 World Cup on the same day back in June, as the campaigns of both Argentina and Portugal ended in the last 16.

    The two men -– each a five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or – have missed six matches for their countries since then and, as fate would have it, their comebacks also coincided, although their returns brought little success.

    Here, we take a look at how the biggest stars in world football endured a night of frustration on the international stage.

     

    Lionel Messi - Argentina 1 Venezuela 3

    Messi returned as skipper for this international friendly in Madrid, but was left stunned as Salomon Rondon fired Venezuela into a sixth-minute lead.

    The 31-year-old showed flashes of his ability and his cross to set up a Lautaro Martinez header from close range was one such example.

    Martinez got a powerful head to the delivery but found goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez in inspired form as he made a fantastic reaction save to clear the ball over the crossbar.

    Farinez then pushed a Messi strike from the edge of the box – his only shot on target – over the bar as Argentina desperately sought a leveller, but Jhon Murillo deservedly doubled Venezuela's lead with a superb strike from 18 yards just before half-time.

    Messi was involved in the counter-attack that ultimately led to Martinez pulling a goal back, but his influence waned thereafter and Josef Martinez wrapped up the shock result from the penalty spot 15 minutes from time.

    It was later announced that Messi will miss Tuesday's clash with Morocco due to a pelvic injury.

    Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal 0 Ukraine 0

    Portugal began their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign as defending champions but their challenge got off to an underwhelming start against Ukraine, despite the return of Ronaldo.

    It was not for lack of effort on the Juventus forward's part, with Ronaldo taking seven shots on goal and landing three on target.

    The 34-year-old was denied twice in quick succession by Andriy Pyatov in the first half.

    First, Ronaldo tried to squeeze a shot between the legs of the goalkeeper, who reacted quickly to make the save, and four minutes later Pyatov got down low to his right to keep out another effort after the former Real Madrid man had created space for the shot.

    Andre Silva could not apply the finish to a Ronaldo knockdown early in the second period and, with time running out, Portugal's star man leapt highest to connect with a William Carvalho cross but directed his header straight at Pyatov.

    Portugal host Serbia in their second match of the campaign on Monday.

  • England 5 Czech Republic 0: Sterling hat-trick gives Three Lions roaring start to Euro 2020 qualifiers England 5 Czech Republic 0: Sterling hat-trick gives Three Lions roaring start to Euro 2020 qualifiers

    Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick as England made an impressive start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic at Wembley on Friday.

    Gareth Southgate's Three Lions qualified for the Nations League Finals in their most recent game late last year, and the four-month break since does not appear to have done them any harm, as Sterling inspired an easy victory.

    With Marcus Rashford injured, Southgate handed a first senior start to Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and he made a strong impact, setting up Sterling's opener, before the Manchester City star won a penalty that Harry Kane converted.

    The Czech Republic started the second half better, but two goals in six minutes from Sterling ended any slim hopes of a fightback, while Tomas Kalas' own goal rounded off an abysmal outing for the visitors. 

    England were dealt the blow of losing Eric Dier to injury in the 17th minute, with Ross Barkley replacing him.

    But the hosts took the lead soon after at the end of a sequence of 25 passes, with Kane's incisive ball finding the run of Sancho to square across the face of goal for Sterling to knock home.

    Sterling – who went into the match with only four international goals to his name – threatened again just before the break, winning a penalty after a combination of Kalas and Pavel Kaderabek blocked him off, and Kane made no mistake with the spot-kick.

    The away side showed some positive intent after the interval, but goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka was helpless to prevent England increasing their lead just past the hour as a pass ricocheted to Sterling in the area and he curled home a left-footed effort after a clever turn.

    Sterling completed his treble 22 minutes from time when his long-range strike deflected in off Ondrej Celustka, and Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced him soon after to become England's youngest competitive debutant.

    The Chelsea winger played a role in the final goal as his shot was parried by Pavlenka and Kalas put the ball into his own net with a woeful first touch, completing a humiliating match for the Czech Republic.

     

    What does it mean? Sterling and Kane to have a field day in Group A

    Sterling was deadly in front of goal on and, while Kane was a little quieter than usual, he still managed to add to his goal haul in an England shirt.

    Most will consider the Czech Republic to be England's toughest opposition in Group A, but the Three Lions tore them apart, with Sterling leading the surge.

    Sancho is the real deal

    A couple of wayward early passes suggested nerves on his full England debut, but Sancho eased into proceedings, teeing up Sterling to give England the lead. After that he looked his usual self, catching the eye with his silky footwork and fine movement. He is surely a mainstay in the making.

    Alli fails to sparkle

    Most of England's more forward-thinking players impressed in one way or another, but Dele Alli looked a little off the pace and was significantly less involved.

    What's next?

    England travel to Podgorica to face Montenegro on Monday, while the Czech Republic host Brazil in a friendly a day later.

  • Portugal 0 Ukraine 0: Ronaldo's comeback falls flat Portugal 0 Ukraine 0: Ronaldo's comeback falls flat

    Cristiano Ronaldo was frustrated on his return to international duty as Portugal were held to a 0-0 draw by Ukraine in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.

    Having not featured for Portugal since their defeat to Uruguay at World Cup 2018, Ronaldo was back for Friday's encounter in Lisbon, but failed to inspire a victory as the Euro 2016 champions began their Group B campaign on a flat note.

    Andriy Pyatov played a key part in frustrating the hosts, twice denying Ronaldo in the first half before pulling off an exceptional save from Andre Silva.

    And Pyatov's heroics paid dividends as Ukraine held firm to secure a hard-fought point, with the onus now on Portugal to respond when they face Group B's other big hitters Serbia on Monday.

    Pyatov did well to tip over Pepe's blistering effort, though Ukraine's goalkeeper was fortunate that the offside flag sparred his blushes moments later after his failure to deal with a cross allowed Carvalho to head in.

    Pyatov atoned soon after, twice reacting sharply to keep out successive close-range strikes from Ronaldo and maintain parity heading into the interval.

    Ronaldo turned provider with a neat knockdown following the restart, but Andre Silva's resulting effort did not test Pyatov.

    The Sevilla forward did better when his next chance came, only for Pyatov to make a superb save at full stretch.

    Portugal were almost made to pay for their profligacy with four minutes remaining, but Ruben Dias made a vital block to prevent Junior Moraes clinching the points for Ukraine against the run of play.

    Vitaliy Mykolenko risked undoing Ukraine's work in stoppage time when he clumsily bundled into Dyego Sousa, though Portugal's appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears.

    What does it mean? Holders fall flat

    The pressure is on Portugal to qualify and defend their title, but with Serbia also in Group B – and Ukraine proving their worth – that task is sure to be a difficult one. Portugal should still have enough, but will need to put in a more clinical display against Serbia next time out, or they could risk falling behind.

    Pyatov keeps Portugal at bay

    Pyatov was caught out when Carvalho headed in, but with the offside flag coming to his rescue, he made sure to make his good fortune count with two superb saves in a matter of minutes to deny Ronaldo before making an outstanding stop from Andre Silva after the restart.

    Neves on the fringes

    Wolves playmaker Ruben Neves has impressed in the Premier League this term, but he struggled to stamp his quality on proceedings on Friday, and was replaced just after the hour.

    What's next?

    Serbia are likely to present the greatest threat to Portugal in Group B, and they are next up for Fernando Santos' side on Monday. Ukraine, meanwhile, face Luxembourg.

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