Aaron Hughes expects Cristiano Ronaldo to be at his world-beating best when Northern Ireland take on Portugal on Tuesday night.
The Real Madrid superstar is set to win his 100th cap in the World Cup qualifier at Porto’s Dragao Stadium, and few would bet against him marking the occasion in style.
Northern Ireland, albeit weakened by withdrawals, leaked six goals in Holland in a summer friendly and Ronaldo will surely fancy his chances of getting on the scoresheet on his big day.
Fulham centre-half Hughes is one of the men charged with confounding expectations, but he cannot hide his admiration for a player who has scored 14 times in 11 club matches this season.
“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.
“He has gone and become just as successful in Spain and maybe there’s more to come from him.
“I don’t think he has peaked, believe it or not. He is still going and appears to be getting better.”
Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll, now firmly re-established as the number one following Lee Camp’s self-imposed exile for personal reasons, is another man who can expect a busy night.
The Olympiacos player was a team-mate of Ronaldo at Manchester United when he first arrived in England, and he is expecting to come up against an even more complete player than the one he used to train with.
“I played with him at Manchester United for two years and he couldn’t speak English when he arrived but neither could I!” said Carroll.
“He was very hard working when he came from Sporting Lisbon and I learned from him, with the shots he put against me in training.”