'People in Portugal need to appreciate that Ronaldo is the best player in the world' – Joao Pereira

Portugal Under-21 defender Joao Pereira believes that Cristiano Ronaldo is under-appreciated in his homeland, and rejected claims that the Real Madrid star fails to perform for the Seleccao.

Paulo Bento’s side have started their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign in poor form, having dropped points to both Russia and Northern Ireland.

However, the young centre-back believes that too much is expected of the former Manchester United man when he represents his country.

“I think what Ronaldo and Messi are doing at the moment is incredible. At the end of every season, people keep saying ‘[Lionel] Messi won’t be able to do that again’ or ‘Ronaldo won’t be able to score more goals again’, but every season they improve. It is incredible,” Pereira said in a phone interview.

“I think people [in Portugal] need to appreciate that we have the best player in the world at the moment, along with Messi.”

“It is natural that Ronaldo normally plays better for Real Madrid. He is there all month with the same players learning routines. He then meets up with Portugal for only one week and it is natural he doesn’t always play the same [as at club level].”

Pereira also believes the Seleccao deserve more credit after their impressive showing at Euro 2012, which saw them reach the semi-final stage before being eliminated.

“If you look at Portugal’s team now, we have a lot of quality – Ronaldo, Nani, [Joao] Moutinho and young players like Nelson [Oliveira].

“We were the only team in 2012 to cause Spain real problems and we had a good tournament. You look at the final: Italy lost 4-0 and they came nowhere close [to winning].

“We need to stop talking about the ‘Golden Generation’ of Luis Figo and Rui Costa all the time.”

Vilanova: Playing youth players is a matter of courage

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has hinted that he believes Real Madrid are not brave enough to blood youngsters in the first team.

Jose Mourinho has come under scrutiny recently for ignoring the Madrid youth academy after playing Michael Essien at left-back as opposed to Nacho, who came through the Santiago Bernabeu ranks.

Vilanova, who has previously worked at Barca’s La Masia academy, believes that giving youngsters a chance in the first XI is a matter of courage.

“Controversy in Madrid about lack of academy players? I only know how we work. It’s also a matter of courage to give them chances,” he told reporters at a press conference.

Vilanova went on to dismiss rumours that he might look to sell out-of-form forward Alexis Sanchez in the January transfer window.

“Alexis is doing what I ask of him. If he doesn’t reach the level we expect, it will also be because I cannot get the best out of him.

“Nobody will leave in January. We have six attackers, all give us something different, and that’s perfect. We want to keep them all.”

Lionel Messi was given permission not to train as usual on Friday due to the imminent birth of his child, but Vilanova was confident that the Argentine would be available for selection against Celta Vigo on Saturday.

“Leo had permission not to train today, but he will play as normal against Celta tomorrow.”

Finally, the 44-year-old revealed that Gerard Pique has been making progress in his recovery from injury, and should be back in full training shortly.

“Pique has been making good progress the last days. He will join the group in a few days.”

Figo: Ronaldo and Messi impossible to separate

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are inseparable when it comes to quality on the football pitch, believes former Real Madrid and Barcelona winger Luis Figo.

The Liga stars are the runaway favourites to win the upcoming Ballon d’Or, with the 23-man shortlist having been announced.

However, the former Portugal captain believes that picking a favourite between the two would be futile due to their current form.

“I think you cannot compare the two [Ronaldo and Messi] at the moment,” Figo told reporters in India.

“Comparison at this level is always bad because one has to win and the other has to lose. We have to take the best of both.

“If you’re picking a team, you’d like to have them both in it because they guarantee talent, quality and goals, of course.

“You cannot compare them, because according to me they are totally different football players and they play in totally different systems in the teams.”

Figo also hinted towards a belief that there was more top-quality footballers during the period he was at the top of his game, while right now there are only a few with a chance of winning.

“They are two of the best football players right now” he added. “The difference between now and then was that during my time, there were a number of good players to choose from so this sort of question was not asked a lot then.

“Then you could probably have 10 to 15 players who could win the Golden Ball, now it is a maximum of four or five.”

The former Portugal captain, who played for both the Blaugrana and Madrid during his career, wants Jose Mourinho’s men to catch Tito Vilanova’s side in the Liga race but admits it will be difficult.

“I think Barcelona right now have quite an advantage in terms of points, but this is a competition of regularity till May,” he continued.

“So knowing Real Madrid so well I think they won’t give up until it’s mathematically impossible for them to be champions again.

“I can’t predict the future, but I can only hope that Real Madrid will be champions again.”

Mourinho has won it all whereas Stramaccioni has only just started, says Milito

Diego Milito feels it is premature to compare Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni to Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho as the two are at different stages in their career. However, the Argentine striker does believe there are similarities between them.

Stramaccioni was recently likened to the flamboyant Portuguese coach by Inter president Massimo Moratti, but Milito believes it is too early to make any such comparisons.

“I’d prefer to avoid this discussion. Mourinho has already won everything throughout his career. Our current coach on the other hand is only at the beginning of his,” Milito was quoted as saying by Tuttosport.

“The thing they have in common is their ability to get the right message across to the players and to get the best out of each of us.”

The prolific attacker then went on to stress that he is thoroughly enjoying life at the Nerazzurri, adding that his current side will be his last club in Europe.

“I’m really happy at Inter and there is still plenty of time until my contract expires in 2014.

“We’ll see what happens, but I’m sure that Inter will be my last European club.”

Milito has netted five goals in 10 Serie A appearances this term.

Real Madrid – Zaragoza Preview: Los Blanquillos look to spring Bernabeu upset

Real Madrid are expected to name a much-changed side from the one that beat Alcoyano midweek in the Copa del Rey for their Primera Division clash with Zaragoza at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo will start, but Sami Khedira, Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo are all injured and Xabi Alonso is suspended after accumulating five yellow cards.

Zaragoza, meanwhile, are still without the injured trio of Maurizio Lanzaro, Ivan Obradovic and Adam Pinter.

The Aragonese outfit will also ring the changes after resting a number of players for the Copa win over Granada on Wednesday.

  • The Castilian giants are on a 20-match unbeaten run at the Santiago Bernabeu in all competitions (W17, D3).
  • Gonzalo Higuain (pictured, right) needs three more goals to reach the milestone of 100 Liga goals for Madrid.
  • Zaragoza have won their last three matches across all competitions.
  • The Aragonese side have lost five of their last six meetings with Real Madrid.
  • Only Osasuna and Granada (both eight) have scored fewer goals in La Liga this term than Zaragoza (nine).