Posted by: jowanderer | March 23, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo revels in role of Captain Fantastic as United stretch lead

March 20, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo revels in role of Captain Fantastic as United stretch lead

Manchester United 2 Bolton 0

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One of the more unlikely stories of the year emerged yesterday, claiming that Cristiano Ronaldo had animal rights campaigners on his trail after the discovery of a Japanese television advertisement in which he plays the role of matador to a computer-generated bull. A far more credible prospect, after another two goals from the Portugal winger last night sent Manchester United three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League, is a plea for mercy from the Professional Footballers’ Association, whose members should not have to be subjected to such torture week after week.

Ronaldo complains that he should not have to endure such close attention as he was subjected to by Bolton Wanderers’ defenders last night, but, like the most talented bullfighter, he clearly enjoys flirting with danger and teasing his opponents before putting them to the sword. In that respect, as in so many others, he is the natural successor to the late George Best, whose highest goalscoring tally, 32 in a season, Ronaldo moved effortlessly past with his two goals, the second a spectacular free kick, inside the first quarter of the game. “Best since Best” read a Nike billboard, but it will have to be updated in time for Liverpool’s arrival at Old Trafford on Sunday.

In one respect, it seems tedious to report another Ronaldo masterclass, but there is nothing tedious about witnessing brilliance, particularly of the mouthwatering, jaw-dropping type produced by a player whom Gary Megson, the Bolton manager, described as “the best in the world”.

Much of the evening was humdrum, with even United’s fringe players content to conserve their energies for the sterner examinations that lie ahead, but what might have been a difficult night for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team was transformed by those two early goals from Ronaldo, who wore the captain’s armband for the first time, in the absence of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and others.

“We don’t make a meal of that [the captaincy],” Ferguson said afterwards. “Cristiano looks for that responsibility. He’s comfortable with that and he relishes it. Thirty-three goals from a wide player speaks volumes for the boy’s ability. There’s no one else that can do that in the game today. It’s amazing.”

So unplayable is Ronaldo at times that Bolton’s players may take some satisfaction in having restricted him to those two goals. Certainly, Megson and his team need all the encouragement they can find after a fifth consecutive defeat left them even deeper in the mire at the foot of the table, but there were at least some positives to be found here. “There’s optimism,” the manager said. “We didn’t look like a bottom-three team.”

They did not, with Tomasz Kusz-czak, the United goalkeeper, forced into making an excellent save by Kevin Davies in the first half and decent stops by Nicky Hunt and Gavin McCann after the interval. Between times El-Hadji Diouf found the net with a free kick, albeit before the referee had given him permission to take it.

“Credit to Bolton,” Ferguson said. “They had a real go. They probably deserved better than they got.” One interpretation of that last remark might be that United did not deserve to be quite as comfortable as Ronaldo’s early goals made them. With Wes Brown, Patrice Evra, Giggs, Wayne Rooney and others rested, few of Ferguson’s fringe players staked an irresistible claim for inclusion against Liverpool on Sunday. With a back injury raising doubts about Ferdinand’s participation in that game, Gerard Piqu鬠the young Spanish defender, could be in contention, but it was hard to make any kind of judgment on him last night, partly because Ronaldo was at a level far beyond anyone else on the pitch.

Ronaldo’s first goal, in the ninth minute, was by no means a classic, a right-foot downward volley that bounced up past Ali Al Habsi after Bolton failed to clear Nani’s right-wing corner, but the second was another of those that will have experts in fluid dynamics stepping forward to try to explain the science behind the perfect free kick.

If you asked Ronaldo to talk you through his technique, he could not, but he, like Al Habsi, and everyone else inside Old Trafford, knew what was coming as he picked himself up after being hacked by Abdoulaye M驴頩n the twentieth minute. It is hard to describe whether the trajectory took the ball up or down, left or right, in or out, but it was flying past Al Habsi to his left from the moment the ball was struck. Even Ferguson, who has seen it all, looked awestruck.

It was hard not to feel sorry for Bolton’s supporters. At one point they mournfully chanted the name of the departed Nicolas Anelka, but for most of the evening they preferred gallows humour. “The Premier League is upside down,” they sang. Unfortunately for them — and happily for United — it is not.

Manchester United (4-4-2): T Kuszczak — O Hargreaves, G Piqu鬠N Vidic (sub: W Brown, 60min), J O’Shea — C Ronaldo, D Fletcher, Anderson (sub: P Scholes, 71), Nani — C T鶥z, L Saha (sub: W Rooney, 71). Substitutes not used: B Foster, P Evra.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): A Al Habsi — G Steinsson, A O’Brien, A M馩uml;t頨sub: N Hunt, 46), R Gardner — J O’Brien — K Davies, G McCann, D Guthrie (sub: S Giannakopoulos, 82), M Taylor — E-H Diouf. Substitutes not used: I Walker, I Campo, G Rasiak. Booked: A O’Brien, Steinsson.

Referee: A Wiley.

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