Tuesday 19 February 2019

Souness: Kane is able to lead England but Ronaldo's time is up

SWITCHING CHANNELS: Graeme Souness and Sinead Kissane
pictured at TV3’s rebrand to Virgin Media Television at the Bord
Gáis Theatre, Dublin yesterday
SWITCHING CHANNELS: Graeme Souness and Sinead Kissane pictured at TV3’s rebrand to Virgin Media Television at the Bord Gáis Theatre, Dublin yesterday

Even the broad shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo cannot bear the burden of leading Portugal to add a World Cup success to their European Championship crown.

But the 2018 World Cup finals is the most open tournament ever with England standing a chance of winning, according to Graeme Souness.

"England have a great chance. Who would England be fearing right now on what they seen? No one," he said on a visit to Dublin yesterday.

In his own experiences at the World Cup finals, Souness played for Scotland against a side often rated as the best team to not win a World Cup, the Brazil outfit of 1982. On a crazy day in Seville, the Scots took the lead, through David Narey, only to be torn apart 4-1.

"We made the schoolboy error of scoring first, like pulling the lion's tail," he jokes with hindsight.

That was a Brazil team packed with brilliant talents, but Souness sees the current tournament as a case of evenly-matched teams being led by a talisman, the likes of Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi and, whisper it, Harry Kane.

But he feels that Ronaldo's time has passed. Can he carry Portugal all the way? "No, I don't think he will," he says.

"I don't think Portugal will come anywhere near it. For me, Ronaldo is in the top five that has ever kicked a ball. I am an enormous fan of his but he can't defy age - no one can.

"I think you've seen it in the last 12 months, where he plays the width of the penalty box: he doesn't venture. He plays from the halfway line to the penalty area and the width of the box. He hasn't got the energy levels.

"Argentina, Brazil and England, the pressure on them is enormous and how they individually deal with it.

"For Brazil to win it Neymar has to get some form, you have to cut him some slack as he's coming back from injury but he's not really started yet. Brazil could win it.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo

"They have as a good a chance as anyone, so do England and Belgium, Spain, there is no one jumping out saying they are the team to beat."

He feels England have the potential to go all the way, now they seem to be able to manage the hype.

"They've done what they've had to do and been impressive in the way they've done it," he says.

"It would be the same here and in Scotland because we're Celts, we get carried away pretty quickly and then get so disappointed when it doesn't work out for us.

"I think of 1978, Ally's Army, we were going to win the World Cup. We didn't and we got mullered when we came back home but that's the price on the ticket.

"The most impressive thing for me, as well as them being impressive on the pitch, is the way the country has got behind them. I've never seen that before.

"I think Southgate is a 10 out of 10 so far in the way he's managed expectations. He comes across as being focused and good at managing the expectation level. I think he's done really well.

"England have a great chance because of Harry Kane, and I mentioned Ronaldo could carry Portugal through, Messi could carry Argentina through - they're that special.

"They could be holding on in game and Ronaldo has done his bit. Argentina can do the same through Messi. And England can do the same with Harry Kane."

Souness played in three World Cup finals tournaments, and he was manager of Blackburn Rovers when they provided two players to Ireland's squad at the 2002 finals (Damien Duff and Alan Kelly).

The presence of mid-ranking nations like Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark in the last 16 in Russia has made some Scottish and Irish fans wonder how their nations would have fared but there's no debate for Souness.

"Ireland and Scotland weren't good enough," he says.

"It doesn't take just one game to qualify for the World Cup, it's a whole series of matches, 10 or 12. It's not like lady luck where you've had one bad day.

"Switzerland are a good team and Denmark have (Christian) Eriksen, he's the difference."

Graeme Souness was speaking at the launch of the rebrand of TV3 to Virgin Media Television.

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