LONDON (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo’s second Old Trafford home-coming will be another highly-charged affair with big rival Lionel Messi leading Argentina in their friendly with Portugal on Tuesday.
Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford for the first time after leaving Manchester United in 2009 when Real Madrid beat United 2-1 with his winning goal in a Champions League tie in March last year, but he can expect plenty of support this time from fans who would love him to make a permanent move back.
The Portugal captain will not have it all his own way, though, given the backing the Manchester-based Argentine colony in coach Gerardo Martino’s squad can also expect in the two great players’ 27th clash though only the second at national level.
Messi, on top in their head-to-head record with 12 wins to Ronaldo’s seven and the remainder drawn, gave Argentina a 2-1 win with a late penalty in a February 2011 friendly in Geneva after Ronaldo had scored Portugal’s equalizer.
Carlos Tevez, recalled for the first time since July 2011, will also be looking for a part, having played for both United and Manchester City who provide Argentina with three players including Sergio Aguero.
Tevez and Aguero, though, look set to start on the bench with Gonzalo Higuain taking the center forward role as coach Martino looks to give most of his squad a game on their two-match tour in England that started with Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Croatia in London.
Messi, whose winning penalty against Croatia was his 45th goal in his 96th international, played on the right wing — nominally Ronaldo’s position too — where Martino believes he can best serve the team with three top candidates vying for the center forward role, Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Tevez.
“It had been a long time since I played in that position, having done so for Barca. I’ve got to get used to it now, it’s not something new but I have to adapt again,” Messi said after Thursday’s match.
Ronaldo, with 52 goals in 117 internationals, comes fresh from scoring the only goal in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Armenia in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Friday.
Argentina, preparing for next year’s Copa America in Chile, have a record of three wins and a defeat in four matches under new coach Martino since they lost the World Cup final to Germany in July.
Editing by Mike Collett