Milik set to face his inspiration Ronaldo in Euros
Marseille, France — Poland striker Arkadiusz Milik is looking forward to meeting one of his footballing heroes in the European Championship quarterfinals: Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo in Marseille.
The 22-year-old Ajax striker is also in close contact with another mentor, Dennis Bergkamp, who memorably showed how to score at the Stade Velodrome in a 1998 World Cup quarterfinal win for the Netherlands over Argentina.
Milik admits he is still learning the striker’s trade. He has found the net only once at Euro 2016 and has squandered a number of chances.
Ronaldo also had a slow start in France before scoring a memorable two goals in Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Hungary. The Real Madrid star now needs one goal to match Michel Platini’s record of scoring nine goals in European Championship finals matches.
“I’m not hiding that it was only a few years ago that I was trying to learn from Cristiano Ronaldo as much as I could,” Milik said Wednesday through an interpreter. “Players like that you need to follow and take some inspiration from. He’s an example of hard work. It’s not just talent, you need to work hard — he’s a great example of that.”
Milik insisted he wouldn’t be starstruck playing against the Real Madrid star on Thursday night as Portugal and Poland battle for a spot in the Euro 2016 semifinals.
“It’s great that there’s a chance for us to meet on the football pitch,” he said. “But of course I will try to focus on me and my team and not look up at him.”
The match will give hard-working Milik a chance to add to his tally of one goal in the tournament and silence critics who have accused him of missing too many goal scoring opportunities.
“There were some chances and maybe I didn’t have that cold blood in front of the goal,” he conceded. “But I’m sure I have the skills to finish it off next time.”
He faced similar criticism at Ajax last season, but finished strongly to notch 21 goals thanks in part to hard work with Ajax assistant coach Bergkamp, the former Arsenal star known for his finishing, not least the stunning late winner against Argentina in Marseille 18 years ago. Controlling a long diagonal pass with a single touch of his outstretched right foot, Bergkamp then turned inside defender Roberto Alaya and fired into the far corner with the outside of his boot.
“When I joined the club, we had a very good relationship because I wanted to spend a lot of time after the training sessions with finishing, with my technique and development,” Milik said, adding he is still in contact with his mentor. “What can I say? Dennis Bergkamp is a special person for me — he’s a footballer who had a great career and you can constantly learn from him.”
European Championship quarterfinals
Poland vs. Portugal, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
Wales vs. Belgium, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
Germany vs. Italy, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
France vs. Iceland, 3 p.m. (ESPN)