The Cristiano Ronaldo lesson that helps Celtic named by Liam Scales as he opens up on superstar 'humbling'

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo vies with Ireland defender Liam Scales
-Credit: (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo's Euros might best be remembered for the Portugal skipper’s tears. But Liam Scales insists trying to stop him in a friendly last month was all the proof he needed that the ageing megastar is still more of a baller than a bawler.

The Celtic defender went toe-to-toe with the former Real Madrid and Manchester United ace for 90 minutes with Ireland - and admits facing up the 39-year-old was a nightmare. Yet the experience has left Scales crying out for more. And with an expanded Champions League campaign just around the corner the Hoops man knows the next big assignment might be just around the corner.

Scales featured in all six of the Parkhead side’s group stage games against Atletico Madrid, Lazio and Feyenoord last season. He admits Ronaldo - who netted two second half goals in Portugal’s 3-0 win over the Irish - is the best he has ever faced. And while the Al-Nassr star isn’t gracing Europe’s top competition these days after heading to the middle east, Scales is hungry to face the best the continent has to offer.

He said: “That was a tough night against Portugal and Ronaldo. It was almost humbling playing against them. I went into the game thinking, ‘I’ve got experience in the Champions League, I’ll be well able’.

“I felt like I could play against them but the whole Portugal team were brilliant, not just Ronaldo. It was their farewell match before the Euros and it was our last game before going on a break.

“You are already expecting that they will be right at it and they were. Ronaldo was quality and it was just his game intelligence that stood out, along with the goals he scored.

“For his first, I thought I had the shot blocked and it has gone a millimetre over my foot and right into the one place where he could score. It was so clinical, so sharp and it sort of shows the levels you need to get to.

“It was humbling in a really good way because it’s made me hungry to go improve and be more comfortable at that level, playing against guys like Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. Their movement and quality on the ball were really good.

“I have played against good players and teams in the Champions League but you just felt they were in sync. I was surprised they didn’t blow teams away at the Euros.

“Ronaldo’s movement in the box is up there with the best ever. For his second goal against us, the ball came in from our right and he has sprinted towards goal, so I have dropped into the six-yard box.

“He has then stopped dead and that has created space for the player to find him with cutback. For a left-footed first-time finish, it was quality but it was the movement before it that stood out.

“The split-second, start-stop double movements were unbelievable. He is the best I have ever played against movement wise and he was always looking to threaten off your shoulder too.

“It was a nightmare to deal with it. That experience has definitely made me hungrier and it’s shown I need to work harder. It showed me that there are levels to go up.”

Scales made 50 appearances for club and country in his breakthrough season for the Hoops. But the former Shamrock Rovers defender, heading into his fourth campaign as a Hoops player which included one season on loan at Aberdeen, reckons his best is yet to come.

He said: “I think I will be better placed to play against these guys having had that experience against Portugal. It comes down to the fine margins when you face players of that level.

“Ronaldo’s first goal… another player would have taken that shot and I would have blocked it because my foot was there. But he looks for perfection and puts it right into the top corner, out of my reach and the keeper’s reach.

“Next time I play against quality like that, I will know that you can’t even give them that tiny margin. You have to be almost perfect against them.”

The newly-expanded Champions League will see Celtic face eight games against two teams from each of the four seeding pots. The top eight in the league format will qualify directly into the last 16 while sides finishing ninth to 24th will go into a knockout round play-off.

It means two extra games at least. And Scales reckons that can benefit the Scottish champions. He said: “It probably will because you are playing two from pot four and two from pot three.

“But they are still going to be challenging games. We won’t really know until next year when we have played a year of it. Getting the two extra games in the groups and playing against two different teams every time is going to bring loads of different experiences.

“Just to have two extra gams in the tournament is brilliant. Those are the things you look back on in the end and remember fondly. It gives us more chances to win games. We are hungry to kick on and get more points.”